good education can be a springboard to a better life, providing access to a rewarding career, greater lifetime earnings and even better lifetime health.

When your clients support even one college scholarship, they can change the life of a recipient, helping him or her break the cycle of poverty and thus change the trajectories of siblings, friends and communities. There are few other gifts that return such profound rewards.

Private foundations play an important role in this regard, funding students’ study, research or travel, or improving their literary, artistic, musical or scientific capacities.

There’s no rule that says scholarships must be reserved exclusively for straight-A students, yet most academic scholarships ironically go to the students already well-equipped to go to college on their own—those with top grades, a wide range of activities and, more often than not, a support network for their pursuits. So what happens to the B-average student who lives in a dangerous area, for whom just getting to high school every day is a challenge? What about the single mother learning job skills following her transition from a domestic violence shelter?

The efforts of these people might not be reflected in their GPA, but they are just as worthy of support.

Nontraditional scholarships go beyond funding typical high achievers by creating opportunities for these other hard-working students—people striving diligently to lift themselves up to a better life.

Take some other examples of nontraditional scholars:

• The born leader: someone who inspires others as a positive role model, bringing constructive change to the life of his or her community. 

• The kid who has fallen through the cracks: a promising student confronting overwhelming odds, such as life in a foster home or a homeless shelter. 

• The middle-class exemplar: an excellent student from a relatively “comfortable” home who, because of his or her parents’ hard work, is unable to qualify for federal loans and is thus unable to afford college.

Private foundations are in good stead to reach these kinds of students, because they not only fund scholarships, but also select recipients. That means they can recognize people with a special spark and determination no standardized test could reveal.

The Right Channels
But choosing those worthy scholarship candidates means getting IRS approval and going through a process that ensures the selection is fair. The Internal Revenue Service has rigorous requirements for scholarship funding, which means foundations must be meticulous about their processes to avoid running afoul of the tax code, risking penalties and fines.