The resources you need to set up your scholarship fund depend on whether you want donations to the fund to qualify for tax deductions.

  • A scholarship fund to benefit yourself of someone you know (a relative, a specific group of people designated by you) is not tax deductible.
  • A fund that awards scholarships on an "objective and nondiscriminatory basis" is tax deductible for its donors.

The IRS has guidelines on who can and cannot receive scholarships, as summarized by this FinAid article (find the "Laws and Regulations" section). Some key points for tax-deductible funds:

  • Don't set up a fund for a specific person.
  • Make sure the group that qualifies for your scholarship is general enough for the IRS to consider it a charitable class. Don't try to be sly by narrowing your criteria so that only the person or people you want can win.
  • Don't give scholarships to insiders, like members of the selection committee, or to their family members.

Below are resources for setting-up a scholarship fund:

  • Your local community foundation or other scholarship fund managers - Scholarship funds often are set up and administered by a third party, such as a community foundation. Your local community foundation may have services to help you set up a scholarship fund. FinAid also lists organizations that provide scholarship management services (find the "Scholarship Management Organizations" section).
  • A bank or credit union - You can set-up an account to accept scholarship donations. However, be aware that large donations may be subject to a gift tax.
  • 529 plan or trust - These two additional ways to set-up a scholarship fund have disadvantages to consider. The effort and expense of stablishing a trust can significantly outweigh the benefit. And according to twocents.lifehacker.com, you might think about contributing to a parent's or student's 529 plan instead of setting up your own fund: "Distributions from an account not owned by the parent or student are considered untaxed income for the student, and therefore could seriously reduce the amount of aid they receive, giving your friends a major headache down the road."
  • Crowdfunding - If you want to raise scholarship funds crowdfunding is a viable option. Crowdfunding is a way to raise funds for a specific cause or project by asking a large number of people to donate money, usually in small amounts, and usually during a relatively short period of time, such as a few months.

Check out these Foundation Center resources:

Finding Foundation Support for Your Education

Meet the Scholarship Funders: Financing Your Education

More articles for individual donors

Topic(s) Foundation Giving Individual Giving Starting a Nonprofit

Subject(s) Education

Population Group(s) Children / Youth

Have a question about this topic? Ask us!

Foundation Center's Ask Us service will answer your questions within one business day.

Ask Us

eLearning at Foundation Center