ASK: Why Aren’t Scholarships 100% Covered

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If you have been in ministry leadership long enough you have planned an event or trip that has included scholarship opportunities.  Scholarships give us a chance to help someone attend the event/trip who otherwise would not be able to afford it.

It’s become even more common place that scholarships are no longer 100% covered but instead include some sort of a contribution from the person attending.  In the case of students, we may have workship opportunities where they can contribute volunteer hours to something happening at the church in exchange for monetary credit toward their registration cost.  For adults, however, it is usually a monetary contribution.

In speaking with different churches, there is not hard fast rule on how much.  Some require a percentage of the total cost, others have a flat amount regardless of the event cost, and some even begin the scholarship conversation with the question “what can you afford towards the cost?”.

But why?  Why do we ask someone in need of scholarship to contribute?  If they had the funds, they wouldn’t need the scholarship. Is this unfair?

After speaking with literally hundreds of leaders, in all areas of ministry, there is a very common reason given for seeking contribution in order to get scholarship funds.  Those who are given full scholarships are more likely to cancel at the last minute or not even show up.   This doesn’t seem to be impacted by the type of event, cost of the event, duration of the event, location of the event, or age of the person scholarshipped.

Why is this problematic?

  • The church/ministry has already paid for that person, which means they are not out of money that could have been spent elsewhere or saved.
  •  The last minute cancellation or no show prevent the scholarship funds being passed on to someone else who wanted to attend but couldn’t afford.

Why does contributing solve the problem?

  •  Evidence points to a much more consistent commitment to attend when a person has had to contribute time, energy, or money to attend.

When you spend hours working at the church to earn scholarship credit, you are more likely to attend the event.  When you have contributed even a small portion of the money, you are more likely to attend because you don’t want to just throw your money away.

While we can debate all day long about morals, ethics, responsibility, etc… the facts are the facts.  Evidence supports that a minimal buy in will result in commitment.  This has even been seen in the business world when it comes to direct sales companies, franchises, etc.  The more someone contributes to the start up, the harder they are going to work and more committed they will be to seeing the venture becomes successful.

As we learn more about how people operate, think, and behavior we can tailor our approach, even in ministry, in a manner that works more effectively

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