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Member Question: Dealing with Logistical Challenges After the Selection Phase

Our organization has already selected our recipients, but we are unsure how to proceed, given the current uncertainty. Can anyone offer advice regarding next steps?

Member Answers:

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation had already finished our selection process when the severity of the situation became clear. This meant that notification to finalists was delayed by about a week. Our main logistical challenge was deciding what to do about our Scholars’ Weekend, which typically includes a banquet for up to 900 attendees from all over the world, including our 150 new Scholars. Scholars’ Weekend also includes a 3-day leadership program for the scholars, which is traditionally facilitated by 30 alumni from all over the world.

Our first action was to convene a board conference call, during which we decided to cancel the Weekend for the first time in its 32-year history. In the event that your organization decides to cancel events, remember to communicate with scholars, alumni, supporters, sponsors, and vendors. You may also wish to include parents, school counselors, principals, and others who may be interested in what’s going on.

  • Once the need to cancel was communicated to sponsors, our sponsors were good about re-committing to the program in the future.
  • Another concern was cancelling long-held contracts for the hotel, banquet, catering, and other services. In this case, the national and state emergency declarations were helpful in allowing companies to shift deposits from this year to next.

Our Scholars’ Weekend is the only event that all of our scholarship recipients attend at once, which means losing an important affinity- and affiliation-building experience with them, the alumni network, the staff, and a missed opportunity to teach them about what it means to be a part of the program and community.

With that in mind, our board and staff decided that it is especially important to create ways to connect our scholars and celebrate them virtually.

Options we are discussing include creating multiple videos and live webinars centered around the core elements of the leadership program. This information is typically communicated over a 2-day period with small group and large group discussions, activities, and reflections, so it may be tough to translate into an online format.

No matter which format we decide to use, we are committed to introducing our 4 leadership pillars in order to give this year’s scholars the fundamentals.

We will also use this format to inform scholars about the process for letting the foundation know where they have chosen to attend college, how to request their money, how their funds will be disbursed, and what financial information will be required to facilitate that process.

Another important point to consider is how to disseminate information about programmatic opportunities for scholars both in college and after they become alumni. In our case, they are joining a network of leadership and professional development, not just receiving a check. A few options are currently under discussion:

  • Our alumni have been vocal and happy to assist in making this cohort of Scholars feel part of our larger community. We may have some host small gatherings and ‘viewing parties’ if that becomes an option later in the summer.
  • It might be possible for us offer a condensed version of the leadership program later this year. Alternatively, we are considering bringing all of the 2020 scholars to the 2021 Scholars’ Weekend, creating a compressed version of the leadership program the day before the banquet for the 2020 scholars, and having their experience end with the banquet, then continuing as usual for the 2021 scholars.

It is important to remember that no matter what happens, this cohort will have a different understanding of the program than those in later or earlier years. Their high school experience is wrapping up in a disappointing way. Commencement, prom, and other traditional events will probably be cancelled, and senior Scholars in college are having an underwhelming end to that time, as well.

Anxiety, confusion, and disappointment are out there – we all want to support scholars and help them feel as good as possible about what is happening as we all move forward.

Jamie Williams, Director of Scholarships, Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation

National Scholarship Providers Association

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