Monday, May 14, 2018

Funding the Future of Comics: NATTO Scholarship 2017 Retrospective

The NATTO scholarship 2018 is going strong, but I thought now would be a good time to revisit the first year of the scholarship. I contribute what I can to charities, but Going Merry made a good case for giving directly to students. Nattosoup Studio has interviewed artists who have received funding to aide their comic work and it has sometimes launched their careers. But many of those scholarships have dried up, so last year seemed like a perfect time to launch my own scholarship to promote sequential art.

Where to Begin?

Getting started was a manual process. I created an account on Going Merry which was straight-forward and free, but found there was and still isn't an interface to create a scholarship on the site. So I emailed the creator, Charlie Maynard, and he got the ball rolling. He was easy to work with; he asked what my goals were for the scholarship, was clear on what role Going Merry would play, and helped answer questions I had about running a scholarship since I was new to this. After 8 rounds of emails and a short call I had a live scholarship in two weeks and felt confident things would proceed. Some of that time was spent being distracted by life or creating assets, but I think it came together in a reasonable amount of time.

You should keep in mind that Going Merry does not promote scholarships- that part is up to you. 

Overview of the scholarship on Going Merry for approval.

How Do I Reach Students?

The biggest obstacle we faced was launching the scholarship so late in the school year. By May 22nd, colleges had let out and high schools were sending their seniors off. So I focused my efforts on contacting other artists to spread the word about the scholarship. I wrote a blog post and created a whimsical Youtube video to garner attention. I asked a variety of people (art educators, bloggers, artists, and podcasters) through social media and emails (directly and indirectly) to signal boost. I got some response. I'm not sure if I just wasn't reaching people, if they didn't see a benefit in sharing the opportunity, or if they were skeptical of the scholarship, but it was difficult to get traction.

I hadn't expected sharing the scholarship to be difficult (it's $1000 for 30 minutes of time!), but we managed to get 18 fantastic applicants by July 1st. When we launched we were shooting for between 10 and 100 applicants, so we were on the low end. But there were so many strong portfolios featuring wonderful illustration work, amazing animation, and creative comics.

Reviewing applications on Going Merry in 2017.

Picking a Recipient

I was able to review the applicants through Going Merry's application portal, but they've since moved away from that to a PDF offline format. I didn't see a good place to take notes on applicants, so I just used a Trello board since it's easier to have images and readable notes than a spreadsheet. It took a few weeks of deliberation—July can be hectic for me—but I contacted the recipient and made the announcement. We were hoping to have some information on Eliana Falc√≥n at the time of her winning, but we just got busy, and wasn't able to get those details until we announced the scholarship for 2018.

What Would I Change?

$1000 is the minimum most students will apply for. Obviously their time is valuable, and chances are they won't be the recipient of the scholarship, so in 2018 we decided to expand the awards to a 2nd place ($500) and 3rd place ($250) to further encourage students who otherwise might not have the confidence.

It's hard to get a scholarship going on grass roots alone. This go-around I created a press release and contacted comic news outlets, local news outlets, high schools, colleges, conventions, and more podcasters to get enough syndication to reach a broader audience. Maybe at some point I'll consider paying to advertise the scholarship, but I'd prefer to have those funds go to students than social media platforms.

I would love to be able to write-off the NATTO scholarship on my taxes, but Going Merry doesn't currently have the legal infrastructure to offer this and I don't either obviously. I plan to stick with the service, if for no other reason it might encourage more people to create scholarships, but this is the main disappointment for me in the process.

How Do You Start a Scholarship?

If you aren't concerned with tax write-offs, nothing is stopping you from creating an online form to accept submissions, promoting yourself, and mailing a check to the recipient. Going Merry is certainly helpful for a sense of legitimacy and for verification the applicants are students / citizens, but if those things aren't a priority for you, it may not be worth the 3% fee they charge for hosting.

So if you have the financial means, around 25 hours of free time, and a desire to help educate the next generation, either sign up for Going Merry or create a Google Form and get going! I definitely recommend you create assets to promote the scholarship. Having a clear name (a difficult task!), possibly a logo, and some graphic assets which are easy to share on social media can definitely have an effect on the visibility.

Finally, while having criteria for your scholarship is a wonderful means to promote your cause, if the requirements are too strict, you may not get enough applicants to justify formally creating a scholarship.