It is graduation season, and happy students and proud parents are lining up at East Texas area auditoriums, gyms, and stadiums to celebrate educational milestones. Thousands of students around our region will graduate from high schools and colleges to begin the next chapter of their lives. Some of these high school and college graduates will soon be entering the workforce, while others will continue their education and training at various colleges, universities or career training programs.

Because public education through the 12th grade is free and funded by Texas taxpayers, scholarship funds established by donors at East Texas Communities Foundation typically focus on graduating high school seniors. The objective of these scholarships is to relieve the financial burden of attending college or post-secondary training and to reward outstanding students who wish to further their education. Because of the generosity of East Texas donors, ETCF will award 162 new students with over $370,000 in total scholarships for the fall of 2024 from 100 unique scholarship funds. These 162 students are the cream of the crop from over 6,000 students who started the scholarship application process. Our selection process utilizes the volunteer labor of over 300 reviewers who faithfully read over 1,400 final qualifying applications.

Administering scholarships is an important aspect of our work at ETCF, and it stems from the high-value East Texas donors; including individuals, families, clubs, organizations, businesses, and foundations place on education. Scholarship funds at ETCF are established for a wide variety of reasons. Some scholarships are created to encourage students to pursue a specific career or discipline such as geology, medicine, ministry or automotive technology. Other scholarships are established to invest in students from a donor’s hometown or a community where they spent their career or raised a family. Still, other scholarships are established to memorialize a loved one for a life well-lived, such as a beloved educator, artist, or family member. Quite often scholarships are established to remember a classmate or family member whose life was cut tragically short. Scholarships provide practical educational support for students as well as healing and remembrance for donors.  

Recent demonstrations on college campuses around the country have given students and college administrators the opportunity to reveal and express their values. Donors may wonder how a fund at scholarship fund at ETCF can be directed to support students who share their values, or, more importantly, how can a donor avoid supporting students who defiantly oppose their values. Each scholarship fund at ETCF is established with a clear purpose to identify and support a certain type of student. Each fund agreement includes a list of criteria that allows a donor to encourage certain achievements, experiences, character traits and personal values. Student essays and references reveal subjective character and values for our evaluators in a way that is not communicated with objective information such as GPAs and test scores. Donors can have confidence that when they clearly describe objective traits in a scholarship fund agreement, our staff and evaluators will work hard to identify and select recipients who meet those criteria. Likewise, charitable funds established to provide perpetual support for nonprofit organizations can be directed to support organizations that faithfully adhere to the mission and values expressed and understood by the donor. The mission of ETCF is to help donors articulate their charitable objectives and work diligently to fulfill those objectives.   

Philanthropy is still a voluntary exercise, and donors are not forced to support organizations and individuals who do not share their values. In fact, charitable giving is perhaps a true reflection of the deeply held values and beliefs of any donor. Perhaps setting up a scholarship fund to identify students who share your values, or creating an endowed fund for one or more of your favorite charities which teach and perpetuate your personal values, is your next best opportunity to Give Well.