Stewardship of Scholarships

Susan Wilson, Associate Director for Financial Aid Awarding, Student Financial Services

A longstanding partnership between Student Financial Services (SFS) and MIT’s Resource Development Office is at the core of SFS’s mission to help students and their families understand, choose and obtain the resources to finance an MIT education. With the generous support of thousands of MIT alums and friends over the past 150 years, it is possible for SFS to award what is expected to be almost $95M in need-based MIT Scholarship for the current year.

Good stewardship of more than 1,100 individual scholarship funds at MIT requires good management and accountability – ensuring that we can tell the donor or a family member exactly how his or her money was used and how it fits into the overall mission of the Institute. Collaborative stewardship by SFS and Resource Development assures donors that their funds are properly used and well administered. Good fiscal management, coupled with the right mix of donor relations, keeps donors happy, and happy donors (we know for a fact) are more likely to give again and to recommend giving to their friends and classmates.

Scholarship donors James and Janë Draper meet 2012 Cunningham Scholar Lyne Tchapmi Petse '14

Communication is central to successful stewardship.MIT’s Financial Aid Office pioneered the concept of communicating to donors both the need for undergraduate scholarship aid and gratitude for their generous support.

For almost 50 years, we have been assigning students to individual gift and endowed scholarship funds and then making sure that donors know something about the recipient(s). Through individualized donor reports, student recipients share their background, their interests and activities, course of study, areas of research, and statements about what the receipt of financial aid means to them. At the same time, we make sure students know something about the particular fund underwriting his or her need-based MIT Scholarship. Throughout the year, the students are reminded of the importance of writing a personal thank you note and also invited to meet their donor on an individual basis, if the donor happens to visit campus, or at a gala donor brunch usually held in April.

Honoring the terms of scholarship funds is also key. Only 450 of the 1,100 individual scholarship funds are “actively stewarded” – meaning there is a living donor who can receive reports. But even for the remaining funds, for which there are no longer any family members connected with MIT, we still make sure we assign the funds in accordance with particular preferences or restrictions as to their use. Through MITSIS, the criterion of individual funds is matched to particular students who meet the terms of the endowment. In that way, we can ensure potential donors of endowed scholarship funds that their gifts will always be honored and appreciated.

Finally, it is important to recognize the significance of all scholarship funds, not only those 450 which have a living donor. In 2006, we launched a project to create individual donor websites for each of the 1,100+ scholarship funds. Linked on WebSIS, the donor websites tell the year the fund was created and the purpose of each fund. Wherever possible, we have augmented that basic information with a photo of the donor and whatever text the donor wishes to provide to let the recipient know something about what prompted the gift and what MIT has meant to the donor. The project has proven enormously popular with donors who regard it as part of their legacy to future generations of MIT undergraduates.

The stewardship of undergraduate scholarship funds involves a process that is often behind the scenes, but without it MIT could not keep its promise to provide access to the best and brightest around the world without regard to a family’s ability to pay.