How to Start a Scholarship Fund to Honor a Loved One

little girl standing in graveyard next to relatives tombstone
| 6 min read Crowdfunding

When a loved one passes away, it’s natural to want to honor their memory and the incredible events that marked their lives. Since your loved one made a lasting impact on your life and the lives of those around them, you may want to celebrate their positive influence on others. One way to do this is by starting a scholarship memorial fund in their name.

A common misconception about scholarships is that they are only started by governments, universities, corporations, or professional fundraising managers. The good news is that any individual can create one. It’s certainly easy to set up for students, senior citizens, or even busy parents. If you aren’t sure how to start a scholarship fund but want to pay tribute to your loved one while creating opportunities for others, this guide contains helpful content that can point you in the right direction.

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How to set up a scholarship fund in six steps

By learning how to start a memorial scholarship fund, you can keep your loved one’s memory alive and find healing. Starting a scholarship fund on behalf of someone else is also a thoughtful way to help your community or help someone who is grieving.

1. Decide who you’d like to help

When choosing a category for your scholarship, it’s best to take some time to think about the legacy of your loved one. What unique skills did they have? What was their favorite subject in school? How did they influence the community? You can tailor the scholarship to commemorate their life.

For example, if your loved one was a talented painter, then you might customize your scholarship for students attending art school. It is no surprise that the cost of education extends beyond just tuition, so you could create education scholarships or grants that help students get the resources to pay for textbooks, school supplies, and housing.

2. Determine the timeline 

An important factor to consider when starting a scholarship fund is how long you’d like it to last. Your scholarship can be a one-time gift or an annual fund that you award once a year. Another option would be to create an endowment, which is permanent.

3. Choose the requirements

An important part of how to start a scholarship fund is to clearly define who is eligible. Each scholarship has specific requirements that students must meet in order to qualify. The questions you’d like for applicants to answer will greatly help you determine who is the best fit for your scholarship. When creating the scholarship application questions, think of ways that students will be able to easily showcase their skills and qualifications when they do apply.

It is common to set an average GPA that students must meet in order to qualify, though requirements for athletes will look different than those for merit-based recipients. For example, a merit-based scholarship may require multiple letters of recommendation from teachers. Tailor your scholarship according to its purpose, always keeping your loved one’s legacy in mind.

4. Select a name for your scholarship

The name of your scholarship is an important factor to consider. As a way to honor them, include your loved one’s name in the name of the scholarship itself. It’s best to keep it short and to the point so that people can understand the purpose of the scholarship right away.

5. Create a selection process

It might be helpful to build a team or committee that can help sort through the applications and narrow down top applicants to be considered as scholarship recipients. If a committee is too formal for your scholarship fund, then soliciting the help of a few trusted friends or family members is a good alternative.

Make sure to give yourself enough time to review each applicant so that you’re able to make a thorough decision by the deadline you’ve set. It’s best to establish a specific rubric for determining the winner so that the decision process remains consistent and unbiased.

6. Register your scholarship fund

One of the simplest ways to register your scholarship fund is through a community foundation, though this may limit your say on the specific criteria you’d like to use. To find a community foundation in your area, use this community foundation locator. You can also work with a school or university to develop an academic scholarship, though most have a minimum fund amount requirement. Researching scholarship management services can help streamline the process as well.

You do have the option of applying to be recognized as an official nonprofit so that donors can receive tax benefits. Throughout this process, it is important to refer to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to make sure your scholarship criteria complies with state and federal guidelines. One thing to note here is that it can be quite costly and time-intensive to register as a nonprofit through the IRS when setting up a scholarship fund.

How to raise money for a scholarship fund

One of the most important parts of understanding how to create a scholarship is knowing how to receive funding. If you’re having trouble gathering the money you need, crowdfunding can help. An online fundraiser unites friends, families, and neighbors and allows them to provide support during a time of need. 

By taking fundraising online, you can easily connect with community members and even businesses who can donate and share your fundraiser. If your loved one has touched many lives in your community, then others may jump at the opportunity to contribute to a scholarship that honors them. Below are examples of real people who used crowdfunding to start scholarship funds.

Carolann Gerasci Scholarship Fund

Carolann passed away after a long, 20-year battle with brain cancer. Her family described her as an incredible teacher who left a lasting impact on every student who crossed her path. To honor her memory and continue her mission of promoting education, her family started a memorial scholarship fund to benefit students who are experiencing hardships in their personal lives. Through crowdfunding services, they were able to raise over $15,000 for their educational scholarship fund.

Carl Thomas Korpi Scholarship Fund

Carl was a high school chemistry teacher who started his career at Teach for America, then spent three years at a Mastery Charter School helping underprivileged children. After he passed away, his family wanted to share his passion for helping students, so they created a scholarship fund in his name. To date, it has raised over $86,000.

How to start a scholarship fund today

Through your scholarship fund, students in real need of financing a college education can find hope. The legacy of your loved one will continue on while your scholarship can help future generations make a lasting impact on the world. Learn how fundraising makes it easier to hit your financial goals, and read up on fundraising ideas that can elevate your fundraiser to the next level. Ready to create positive change through a scholarship fund? Sign up today to get started.

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Written by Jenna Davis

Asking for help is never easy, but it's my hope that our resources make it a bit easier and empower individuals and organizations to reach their fundraising goals. I believe we can create a better future through generosity and compassion—all it takes is a little bit of support from each of us.