• Post-award Best Practices

    Managing your awarded applicants can be a time-consuming process. You might need to collect required documents from students, ensure that they still meet minimum qualifications, or have students formally accept your awards. You might need to create information packets for awardees to give them next steps. Some scholarship managers even need to plan events to publicly honor the students who have been awarded.

    All of these moving pieces can add up to a lot of manual work on your part. Creating a plan for what items you need in advance of your awarding period will allow you to use your time and effort in a more effective way. Here are some common types of follow-ups that you might want to incorporate into your process.

    Instructions for follow-ups Clear and concise steps will be helpful to ensure that you get all the correct items from each awardee. This will limit the amount of back and forth required to collect everything you need. Additionally, you could pass out information about next steps. Can the student be awarded a second payment for their scholarship? Are they allowed to apply again in future cycles? It is a good idea to spell out this information to reduce confusion for your awarded students.

    Thank you letters The most commonly collected items from students are thank-you letters. These letters are not only a great way to drive donor engagement, they also create collateral to demonstrate how important the scholarship management process is in helping students. Awardees will have an easier time writing effective letters if you have provided them with information about the donor that they are thanking or some guidelines on writing a well-crafted letter.

    Award acceptance forms If you need a student to formally accept an award before you can make a payment, you might want to consider creating a form that they can sign, either physically or electronically and return to you.

    Headshots for publicity The ability to create marketing materials for your scholarship program can help bolster your donations and attract new donors to your foundation or institution. If you want to include photographs in these marketing materials, you can request them directly from the student. Keep in mind that you might also need to ask them to sign a photo release to publish their image.

    Event RSVPs If you need to plan a scholarship award ceremony, it will be very helpful for you to know the exact number of guests to plan for. This follow-up will allow students to tell you if they can attend the event and how many people they are going to bring.

    School bursar address If you need to send the scholarship check to the college or university that the student is attending, instead of to the student’s home address, this is a good time to collect that information.

    Qualification validation Some scholarships have criteria that need to be met which a student might not have proof of during the application period. For example, if one of your scholarships has a requirement that the student be accepted into a particular program or school, the student might have only recently been accepted. You can collect this additional information during the awarding period to confirm they do in fact meet the requirements of the scholarship.

    All of these follow-ups, and many more, can be included in a packet that you physically mail or email to students at the time that you notify them of the award. This packet can be reused with minor updates from year to year which will save you time in the current cycle and streamline the process for years to come.

    If you are currently an AwardSpring customer or are interested in becoming one, be aware that we have functionality in our system to automate the follow-ups process. You can collect all materials online as well as provide any necessary documents or instructions. Additionally, you can review student answers and pass back to the student for additional attention if there is something missing or they have missed the mark.

    We’ve worked with our clients to provide suggestions, help adapt platform features to fit their processes, and even facilitate conversations with other clients. If you are interested in learning more about AwardSpring to determine if it meets your scholarship management needs, please email inquiries@awardspring.com. If you are a current customer, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our support team to schedule a strategy call to talk through any questions or concerns you may have.

    Cass Montemagni
    Implementation & Training Specialist

  • Dealing with the Ongoing IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) Outage

    We all know the importance the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) plays in the lives of Financial Aid administrators, student applicants, their parents and the affordability of higher education in general. The FAFSA is complicated, time-consuming, and collects a wealth of information about a given student’s ability to qualify for additional aid. The IRS has a Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) that has helped students and their families fill out the FAFSA with greater efficiency and accuracy.

    As you’re likely painfully aware, the DRT has been unavailable since March 9, 2017. The IRS has issued a formal statement, available on the US Department of Education website, that outlines their perspective on how the outage of the DRT affects students and the application process. In short, the implications are:

    - Tax data usually made automatically available by the DRT is unavailable indefinitely

    - Students and their families have been directed to manually review their most recent tax returns in order to find the information usually provided by the DRT. They should request copies from their family’s tax preparer, the IRS website, or by calling 800-908-9946

    - Online applications for the FAFSA and Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan are still operational

    Our friends at the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA) have been doing an excellent job staying on top of this issue. If you’re an NSPA member, we recommend following their updates on the matter which have been coming through their usual weekly announcements. The National College Access Network (NCAN) also has an excellent running blog post about recommended actions to take that doesn’t require membership to follow.

    Our team at AwardSpring has been briefed on the implications of this outage. If your students or their families call in to our team for support on this matter, we’ll be sure to share this information with them and direct them to your Financial Aid team for any additional information or concerns.

    Kurt Reilly
    Co-Founder & CEO

  • 2016 Year in Review

    As happens during this time of the year, I have been reflecting on what a momentous year it has been. While searching through my notes, I realized that not only are we closing out 2016, but the AwardSpring platform is two years old. Given that, let's take a look at what we've accomplished in those two years.

    Two years ago, we had our first customers start using the platform as a beta. We had three customers daring enough to start preparation work in December for January 1 go-live. We added conditional (skip) logic into the software just three days prior and it wasn't yet possible to delete a scholarship. We were hurrying to prepare our platform for real customers and closing lots of bugs. We didn’t sleep much.

    Setting up the first AwardSpring site.
    Chris setting up the first AwardSpring site.

    We learned a lot from our customers during that first cycle. Features that we thought were important got put on the back burner, features that we thought could wait were needed immediately. In a lot of ways this exemplifies how we work. Being responsive to customers is crucial to our success. In the first six months, we shipped the following:

    - Reviewer Blinding
    - Help Center
    - SIS Integration
    - Single Sign On

    We also revisited the design of several pages on the site. For example, we completely redesigned the awarding screen to make it customizable. This was a common theme for work that we have done since our initial launch. Each customer has a unique process and features we build need to allow for this wide variation.

    Customizable award and deny screen.

    We continued to improve the software through the back half of 2015 and into 2016. In total, we have updated the software with 29 feature releases in 24 months. The frequency of releases is important to us as it means we can quickly address smaller issues and customer requests. In previous lives at other companies, my team was only able to address concerns during quarterly or yearly releases.

    It is easy to focus only on the software when looking back. The software has many tangible, visible changes. However, one of the biggest, less visible changes has been to our support process. Prior to taking over STARS Online, support was… interesting. Since then, we have introduced a dedicated support team, added the ability to message our support team from inside the software, and expanded our phone coverage. We have also added dedicated implementation specialists to guide our customers through their first award cycle to ensure they can effectively use the software.

    As you can see, our customers are the center of nearly all of the changes we've made in two years. To help formalize the feedback process, we automatically ask customers for feedback after every support interaction. Our client development team also reaches out multiple times a year to see how things are going, address any issues, and schedule additional training.

    In many ways, we're an entirely different company than we were two short years ago. However, our core values remain the same which keeps us focused on customer needs and drives constant improvement.

    We couldn’t be more excited about the future. We have some amazing ideas about how to continue to make scholarship management easier and expand the kinds of tasks the software can help you accomplish.

    If you have feedback, questions, or ideas for where we should head in the future, feel free to send me a note or give me a call.

    Daniel Orofino
    VP, Product Management

    Contact me: 847.859.5017 x 7325 | dorofino@awardspring.com

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