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Secret Sauce

Friday, December 18, 2015

This month’s picture features Eric Fisher, a Johnson Scholar who came to our dinner and spoke to the Grant Program Committee. His appearance and remarks resonated with a lesson that we have learned. The greater value of our scholarships is not in the money but in the “secret sauce” that goes with them.


That is not to downplay the importance of money. Without it we have no mission and no scholarships. Money is assuredly the main course. But it is the “secret sauce” that enables students to sit down and stay for dinner.  And it is the “secret sauce” that students remember long afterward.

By “secret sauce” we mean non-monetary support, which we wrap around the scholarship. This support includes mentoring that prepares a disadvantaged student for post-secondary education. It includes academic support and tutoring. It includes follow up and counselling after the student has made the transition to college. Most important, it includes the act of faith implicit in the granting of a Johnson scholarship. 

The Foundation’s show of faith helps our students through difficult moments when they think that they cannot succeed. It lights their way forward when they feel like quitting. Hope and faith instilled by the Foundation’s scholarship was the theme of Eric’s remarks and he repeatedly stressed that this helped him much more than the money.

“Secret sauce” also helps the institutions, which serve our scholarship recipients. For example our SUSF scholarships are managed by the Disability Service Offices on each of the 12 campuses. These offices run the committees, take the applications and award the scholarships. Their ownership of this process, and the implicit show of faith in them, enhances the status of the Disability Service Offices in the eyes of the people who work there, other offices on campus and, most important, the eyes of the students they serve.

We have a limited supply of money and we do a good job of getting leverage. Continuing with the SUSF example, it attracts a 50% match from the Florida Legislature and we offer a supplement, which each campus must fully match. Most of our scholarship programs have a matching component.

We also leverage our “secret sauce” by attending events and meeting with students and faculty, by regularly convening meetings of our grantees, by writing to students, and by raising the Foundation’s profile and building its brand. We can do a better job and we continue to explore ways of doing so, within the bounds of thrift.

There are simple things like developing letters and brochures to go with the scholarships. Presently, the Palm Beach Johnson Scholars get a letter from the President. In other scholarship programs it depends upon the local management. We will look more closely at this and develop additional materials where appropriate. We have prided ourselves on awarding scholarships to everyone, even those with relatively low marks. However, Eric Fisher made the point that some academic rigor would improve the non-monetary value of Johnson scholarships.

The largest potential for leverage comes from our communication initiative, particularly social media. As the Foundation becomes better known its brand will grow and so will the value of its “secret sauce.”

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!