Simple and Clear: Why Funders Still Love Scholarships

Compared to fancy grantmaking strategies, individual education scholarships are a plain vanilla form of philanthropy. Checks are written, tuition bills are paid, and kids get a chance they might not otherwise have had. That's a pretty simple way to make a difference. Which is why scholarship funding is still a big part of many foundations’ giving strategy. 

One such organization is the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women, a New York City-based nonsectarian organization that is committed to giving scholarships and professional development support to local women. Last month, the foundation’s executive director, Elizabeth Leiman Kraiem, provided some insights to Philanthropy New York about scholarship funding and its enduring place in philanthropy. Given how much we write about scholarship efforts, it's worth spotlighting her thoughts about why funders love this kind of giving. 

New Donors Can See the Impact of Their Work

Scholarships are a great philanthropic outlet for donors with a personal touch who like to see the direct impact of their money. For scholarships, it’s all about the story, and the most likely recipient is the student who presents himself as having the most inspiring and most promising story.

“With scholarships, that story or anecdote is the actual work, even as it also fills in a larger picture,” said Kraiem.

Outcomes are More Measurable

It’s easy to get lost in the details of large initiatives and multi-year grants, especially when the payoff may lie years in the future. Some donors like awarding scholarships because the outcomes are more measurable and easier to track: The recipients get degrees and then (usually) go out and lead more productive lives. Or, with more specialized scholarships, they contribute to society in some specific way. 

"Scholarships are both an end and a strategy for achieving an end," Kraiem said. "Curing disease, narrowing the opportunity gap, fostering understanding between countries: all use scholarships as one way to move the needle." And, in fact, we can think of specific scholarship programs focused on each of the goals Kraiem mentions.

Scholarships Dovetail With a Growing Focus on Collaboration

Kraiem says that scholarship efforts often involve collaboration with others. Funders need to connect with other organizations to find the best candidates and more, which is also a way for funders to be plugged into a wider world.  

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Around 30 local funders gathered together in New York November to chat about why scholarships and fellowships are still important to them in the world of grantmaking. Despite the glitzy appeal of high-impact grants, these strategies seem to be persisting and are enduringly important to lots of philanthropists and organizations. We don't expect that to change.