Scholarships are an excellent opportunity to make a positive impact and support the objectives and mission of your nonprofit. However, there can be IRS compliance issues for your organization if your program isn’t set up properly.
Keep these 3 considerations in mind when creating a scholarship program:
1. Establish the scholarship’s purpose in alignment with your organization’s goals. Starting with a clear alignment of purpose helps avoid eligibility and selection issues. For example, an animal rescue charity may wish to offer scholarships to students studying veterinary medicine; a food security foundation may wish to offer scholarships to students pursuing studies in nutrition.
2. Define eligibility rules in compliance with IRS requirements. To start, eligibility criteria must be broad enough to serve a public interest. But, you can limit the eligible group to the people you wish to serve with your scholarship, such as residents of a city or state. To show that your program doesn’t create unfair advantages, you should also include a plan to publicize your scholarship to reach those who are eligible. Rules about defining scholarship eligibility vary depending on the type of organization awarding the funds. It’s essential to understand and comply with all regulations.
3. Specify an objective selection process that follows specific guidelines. Recipient selection has a lot of potential for problems and will come under scrutiny. It’s imperative that you take measures to ensure that members of your organization cannot privately benefit from the selection process. Selection criteria need to be objective and non-discriminatory; however, you don’t have to limit the criteria to grades and test scores. You can and should define criteria that align with your purpose and mission, making sure that all criteria are compliant. Different regulations exist for public charities, for private foundations, and for funding scholarships connected to educational institutions and businesses. Non-compliance can result in financial and other penalties.
Scholarship programs look simple on the surface, but compliance is complicated. Foundation Group has over twenty years of experience helping foundations and charities ensure compliant scholarship programs that serve their intended purpose.