Officials to implement new data management platform to track scholarship donations

Media Credit: Donna Armstrong | Contributing Photo Editor

Officials said they will use the management platform AcademicWorks to match students with scholarship opportunities and track how endowed scholarships are dispersed.

The fundraising office will use a new management service this spring to show donors how their money is impacting students.

Donna Arbide, the vice president for development and alumni relations, announced at a Faculty Senate meeting earlier this month that officials will use the management platform AcademicWorks to match students with scholarship opportunities and track how endowed scholarships are dispersed. Arbide said the scholarship data will make it easier to show donors the impact their financial support has on individual students.

The AcademicWorks platform organizes donor contact information, scholarship fund data and scholarship recipient data into a single database and automatically matches eligible students to applicable scholarships, according to the platform’s website.

The new system will be used as part of the development office’s increased efforts to retain donors as officials lay the groundwork for the University’s next capital campaign.

Arbide said tracking donations is an “ethical” responsibility for GW because donors often designate money to specific causes, and “we need to be sure we are spending money in the way they’ve asked us to spend it.”

Eighteen four-year public institutions, six four-year private institutions and 17 two-year community colleges currently use the service, not including GW. None of the University’s 12 peer institutions use AcademicWorks, according to the platform’s website.

University spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton said the development and student experience offices selected the AcademicWorks service to match eligible students with merit scholarships because funding students’ education through financial aid is “a top priority” for GW.

Officials have raised more than $100 million for financial aid over the past five years.

“This tool will also help us better serve our student populations and will contribute to enhancing the overall GW student experience,” Hamilton said in an email.

She said the service will be integrated with the scholarship systems the University currently uses, adding that the platform will “enhance and streamline scholarship management processes and increase our ability to match scholarships to potential recipients.”

She said administrators will use the system to manage scholarships, but students could have “limited” possibilities to look at information about scholarship requirements in the system.

No employees will be hired to operate the system, and there are secure levels of information access between administrators and donors in the system, Hamilton said.

She declined to say how much the system costs.

Fundraising experts who use AcademicWorks said the scholarship management software made choosing students for scholarships more efficient and helped bolster fundraising efforts and retain donors who are able to see the impact of their contributions.

Megan Sarber, the manager of donor relations at Manchester University in Massachusetts, said her office has been using AcademicWorks for a year, and donors can log in to the system and see the students who are receiving their donations. Before the system, Sarber said the office used Excel spreadsheets to inform donors about the scholarships they funded and keep track of requirements for scholarship recipients.

“The software looked like it would save us time, help us be more efficient in our jobs,” she said. “It would help us award scholarships better to donor intent because it auto-matches students who fit the criteria.”

Donors have access to the students on the platform, but the students at Manchester University also contact their benefactors and write thank-you letters to them, Sarber said. Keeping donors in the loop generally ensures that they will continue gifting money to the school, she said.

“We found that when we let the donors know how we are using their funds and the impact that they’re making on students, they tend to then give us more money,” she said.

Sarber said her office pays $10,000 a year for its AcademicWorks package, but schools with more students and more scholarships would pay more.

Representatives from AcademicWorks did not return multiple requests for comment.

Elizabeth Nemme, a stewardship specialist at Auburn University in Alabama who uses AcademicWorks, said that allowing donors access to information about how their donations are spent encourages them to donate again in the future because officials “let them know that they’ve made a wise investment choice.”

“It’s really important to make sure that we showcase what money is going to, how it’s being used and representing that what their wishes were for those funds actually came to fruition,” she said.

Karen Hansen, a stewardship coordinator at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls who uses AcademicWorks, said that having access to information on how donor funds are spent means donor relations staff can more quickly answer donors’ questions and concerns.

“It’s important when a donor calls to donate more that we can address their questions and give guidance immediately before they change their mind,” she said in an email.

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