How to Start a Scholarship to Enhance Your Corporate Philanthropy Efforts

There are a lot of advantages a scholarship program can yield for your business, and you don’t have to break the bank to fund one. Most scholarships average between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on whether they go to undergraduates or professional students.

Certainly you can go higher or lower as fits your company—just ensure whatever you do, it’s well-planned from the start. To help you “hit the ground running,” as it were, follow these steps to align your energies and design the best scholarship program.

Planning and purpose

First, determine what kind of scholarship you’ll be providing, and how best to allocate funds. Are you going to use tax breaks as a deferral solution? That is to say: Will you use philanthropy to increase the tax break your business gets and withdraw the scholarship funds from future tax savings?

Financial planning and structuring early on help to form a framework for other important considerations later. Having this framework outlined early helps to eliminate research and development of economically infeasible programs or timetables.

Will your scholarships be geared specifically to helping an underprivileged portion of your community? You need to determine which specific students you’re looking to reach. If you’re a tech firm, you might focus your energies on promising software engineers. Should they do well, they may apply for a job with your company later, doubling down on the effectiveness of your program. There are a lot of different scholarship types out there, don’t limit yourself.

You could provide scholarships in the name of a loved one, or a renowned professional in your organization; these could be given based on academic excellence, or something else that recognizes acumen in education.

You might provide trade school support, or assets for students with a lot to overcome. Sports scholarships are regularly awarded. There are also scholarships given out on essays, or for students who have gone out and done something worthwhile for their community. It all depends on what you think best realizes your corporate philanthropy program’s purpose.

Establish timelines

Once you’ve figured out the purpose of your scholarship, and how you expect to acquire funds, your next step is to set yourself a “due date” when your scholarship program will be live.

You’ll want to consider the fiscal year, and where taxation will hit. Additionally, you’ll want to consider the application process. If you’re going to have hopefuls submit an essay and application, will they do it via print, in person, or through digital application software?

Sometimes businesses raise scholarship money through fundraising, and additionally, you’re likely going to have to advertise in order to get applicants. You’ll want to plan about a year ahead. If scholarships are being given out for the fall semester, get the details ironed out the previous summer.

Evaluation considerations

You’ll need to look into evaluation solutions as well—will there be a review committee? Who will be the evaluators: volunteers or paid employees? And of course, you’ve got to determine how you’ll award the scholarship. Will it be done within your company, via mailed out check, or with great fanfare?

You’re helping hopeful students out, but you will also get benefits in terms of PR and organic marketing. So it may be worthwhile to make an event out of an award ceremony. You might even award multiple scholarships, increasing the number as your ability allows. 

Award scope

Will the award you give out be a one-time thing, or will it continuously renew? Certainly you could simply award a student with a check for a thousand dollars, or you could give them $2,000 a year until they graduate. It all depends on your organization’s philanthropic goals, associated tax necessities, funding strategies, and the kind of PR angle you’re looking to maximize.


Students can be brilliant and naïve simultaneously; you’ve got to have scholarship terms to protect them from themselves, and your business from their inexperience. If they’re allowed to retain a scholarship in the face of bad behavior at whichever educational institution they choose, this can reflect negatively on your business.

It’s a good idea to incorporate terms students must abide by in order to receive continuing support. Of course, if you’re giving a one-time scholarship, this is less of a concern. The scope of the award, and how highly it’s publicized, will likely determine how stringent terms must be.

A successful scholarship program

Every scholarship effort will have its own unique qualities. Success in outcomes and impact is most likely to come with proper planning and consideration. As you go about designing your ideal scholarship, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and that however things work out, you’re ultimately doing good through your business.

Sarah Aswell

Sarah Aswell is an editor and content strategist at Submittable. She’s also a writer and stand-up comedian who gets rejected via Submittable all the time. You can read her comedy criticism at Forbes, follow her on Twitter, or learn more about her creative work on her website.