May 1, 2013
CFNJ: How many scholarships do you manage, Faith? Are they all similar or each unique?
FK: Here at the Community Foundation we manage over one hundred scholarships and gave away more than $1 million in scholarship funds last year.
Each fund is truly unique. They can focus on a field of interest, a geographic region, a particular high school, or a specific degree area, among other categories.
When we work with a donor or family of donors to create a scholarship fund, we review a simple criteria sheet and discuss things such as academic merit, need, and community service. That’s the springboard from which a family can go out and think creatively about their scholarship fund.
CFNJ: What’s the process? Where are you in that process now?
FK: We usually post scholarship information in January or February and students should start doing their research then, if not before. Requesting letters of recommendation from teachers and preparing a resume in advance are always a good idea.
Right now we’re accepting applications from far and wide. Our staff is sorting through them and working to present the relevant information to the appointed selection committee.
Many of our scholarship funds are still accepting applications today, so if there are students who are interested, they should take a look at our website right away. The application deadlines for the scholarships do vary a bit.
CFNJ: Do you choose which students get awards? If not, who does?
FK: Each scholarship fund is different. Some funds utilize a high school selection committee comprised of guidance counselors and other school administrators who make the decisions. We here at CFNJ also have our own selection committee, the majority of whose members come from our Board of Trustees.
A unique example would be our Hon. Ann P. Conti Scholarship. This fund utilizes a selection committee of individuals suggested by the family, but not directly related. As a rule, if a donor would like to be involved with the selection process, there must be a majority of “application reviewers” who are not related to the donor. This helps to avoid issues of bias. For every person affiliated with the donor on a scholarship review committee, there must be two more who are not; that fulfills the 1 to 2 ratio requirement.
CFNJ: So how does a student really stand out from the crowd? Any tips you can share?
FK: Certainly academics are important. And so, too, is community involvement. But when reviewing these applications, particularly those that are need-based, the selection committees often look for balance. A student applying for a need-based scholarship may work one or more jobs, thus limiting his or her ability to participate in extra-curricular activities. The key is to identify a well-rounded student with high potential.
CFNJ: Let’s talk about opportunities for donors. Can anyone open a scholarship fund? How large should the fund be?
FK: Anyone can open a scholarship fund and the minimum amount required for the fund is $25,000. The only exception would be if it’s a memorial scholarship, such as if a family requests donations in lieu of flowers. We’ll collect the funds on behalf of the family and watch the fund grow, but if there is no activity or no further growth, we’ll work with the family to grant the dollars out.
No matter the circumstances, we’re always happy to talk to donors about opening scholarship funds and offer our own expertise and assistance.
CFNJ: Can’t a donor simply use his or her donor advised fund to give scholarships? What’s the difference between a donor advised fund and a scholarship fund?
FK: Actually, a donor advised fund cannot give scholarships directly to individuals, but they can certainly support scholarship funds at educational organizations. A scholarship fund is a different type of fund.
The Council on Foundations does a good job of explaining the differences. In order to comply with the law, a scholarship fund must be different from a donor advised fund in the following ways:
- The sponsor organization, in our case the Community Foundation of New Jersey, appoints all the scholarship committee members. The donor is simply a member of the committee, assuming he or she wants to be.
- The donor or friends and family of the donor cannot control the scholarship committee in any way.
- Scholarship awards are made in an objective and nondiscriminatory way. There has to be a procedure in place that the Community Foundation’s Board approves.
These are the sorts of things we walk donors through if they’re considering opening a scholarship fund.
CFNJ: If a student wants to learn about available scholarships, where should he or she go? How about if they have specific questions?
FK: A good first step is to visit our website, www.CFNJ.org. We’re also available at 973-267-5533. Of course, I always encourage people who are interested in a scholarship to read the application in its entirety first!
CFNJ: Once you give a scholarship to a student, what happens next?
FK: For scholarships that are multi-year, we stay in touch with the student and work with him or her to make sure they are meeting any additional criteria. Often times a fund will require that the student maintain a certain GPA and/or provide academic transcripts at points throughout the year.
But before we even get to that point, we invite all scholarship recipients to a breakfast hosted by RegentAtlantic Capital LLC. Students, parents, and donors are all invited. It’s a very nice event and RegentAtlantic does a terrific job providing a lesson in financial literacy to the attendees. This is especially valuable to the students who, in many cases, are setting off on their own for the first time.
CFNJ: Thanks for your time, Faith. It sounds like it will be another banner year for student scholarships at CFNJ.
FK: My pleasure! Now back to today’s pile of new applications…