*Updated January 29, 2020
Scholarships are an affordable, but powerful marketing tool for brands and other businesses. And many accounting firms and organizations, including AICPA, are already sponsoring scholarships.
The sponsors may have different reasons for doing it. Some do it to show their commitment to education and the community. Some do it for good public relations. Some do it out of a need to give back. Others do it just because they believe it’s the right thing to do.
Regardless of the underlying reason, it is clear that scholarships are even more powerful as a branding tool today in this digital world where client acquisition is one Google search away.
And accounting firms that are already sponsoring scholarships know it. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of scholarships funded by accounting firms. These accounting firms have undoubtedly recognized the impact that their scholarships can create for their firm and students alike.
While there may be hundreds of accounting firms sponsoring scholarships today, we believe that more should be doing so. Any accounting firm that is spending money on online marketing should be funding a scholarship, which will yield better results than any other digital efforts.
It is so easy to do, and it doesn’t cost all that much. If you factor in the high cost of Google ads for your accounting firm, scholarships are the cheapest way to market your accounting firm and its services in this digital market. And you will be helping students (and their families) along the way. So, it’s a win-win situation for accounting firms and students.
There are so many great reasons to sponsor a scholarship, but here’s how scholarships are particularly beneficial to accounting firms — of any size.
1. Scholarships remove another challenge faced by accounting firms
Accounting firms already face numerous challenges, including commoditization of core services (like audit, bookkeeping, and tax preparation), offshore outsourcing of tax-preparation and financial services, technology advancements, cybersecurity, and more.
Machine learning and AI will automate much of what accountants do, traditionally. Take the accountants’ reporting function, for example, which involves collecting information on a company’s transactions and compiling them for financial statements and tax returns.
“This is manual work that accountants do right now,” James Solomon, Xero’s head of accounting in Australia, told GetApp. “But in the future, automation will complete these components based on machine learning and AI.”
Additionally, like other businesses, accounting firms also have to worry about the online reviews they get. If your firm has reviews, a search of your firm will auto-populate with reviews up top. If the reviews are bad, potential clients will have a negative impression of your firm.
But if your firm sponsors a scholarship, Google will begin to auto-populate your search results with the scholarship, which will leave a positive image on people who are searching for information about your firm, not just those looking for scholarships.
2. Auto-populate in search lets potential clients know your accounting firm cares
When people search for your accounting firm, you never know what direction they will go. Will they look at your reviews (if any), hours, services, or accountant profile(s)? Along their search journey, Google tries to help them, and often will show that the brand has a scholarship in the auto-populated search fields.
This makes it all the more important for accounting firms to sponsor scholarships. In the snapshots below of Google searches for three different accounting firms, scholarships showed up on top for all three search results.
When you promote a scholarship, it will help your accounting firm stand out in search results, so more people can find you. And the more you promote your scholarship(s), the better your search results.
3. Scholarships are effective for branding your accounting firm’s practice and highlighting your firm’s values
Scholarships provide an opportunity for you to tell your accounting firm’s story. Accounting firms, like other businesses, are built on public perception, and a scholarship sets the tone in a very positive way.
By formulating a strong narrative about your scholarship, your accounting firm can connect with your audience and set your firm on the path to build long-term relationships.
Many accounting firms are recognizing how scholarships are a great way to brand their practice and stress what’s important to them.
For example, Deloitte, a global network of member firms, is sponsoring the One Young World Scholarship 2019, which will make it possible for “10 outstanding young leaders” to attend the One Young World Summit in London, UK, in October 2019. This scholarship is aimed at young leaders from around the world “who focused on improving the education, skills, and access to opportunity for people in their communities, countries, or [the] world at large.”
4. Scholarships help your accounting firm stand out from their competitors
The number of accountants and auditors in the United States is expected to rise by 10 percent from 2016 to 2026 — from 1,397,700 in 2016 to 1,537,600 to 2026, which is a faster rate of growth than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Additionally, there are approximately 42,000 accounting and CPA firms, according to Accounting Today.
So, the competition is stiff — both on an individual level and on an accounting-firm basis.
And many of them are sponsoring scholarships, which provide them with a cheap, yet effective, way to reach potential clients.
So, why risk being left out in the cold? Your accounting firm should do what competitors are doing — using scholarships to help their cause.
5. Scholarships can have a huge impact on your accounting firm’s community and boost your accounting firm’s reputation
By sponsoring scholarships, accounting firms show that they care about students and their families. They are an effective way for accounting firms to make a difference and give back to their community. You will be helping deserving students, who otherwise may not be able to afford higher education and achieve their passion. Your scholarship will help put them in a position where they can pay it forward.
Here’s the story of a Taco Bell Live Más Scholarship recipient, who went on to MIT to study environmental engineering. His passion is climate change.
According to TUN’s Fourth Annual College Student Survey, 77 percent of students have applied for at least one scholarship in college. So, your scholarship(s) would definitely make a difference to students who seek higher education but lack the means to finance it, and they will thank you for it.
- Giving back by helping college students
Student debt in the United States is at a record high, having climbed to nearly $1.6 trillion in the first quarter of 2019. More than 44 million college students borrow to pay for their education, according to Forbes, with 2017 grads having an average student loan debt of $28,650.
So, students can use all the help they can get. By sponsoring a scholarship, accounting firms will be supporting tomorrow’s leaders and closing the achievement gap, among other things.
Accounting firms can sponsor scholarships for a wide audience, or they can tailor the scholarships to suit any cause or purpose — say, women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) or the military.
For example, Crowe LLP, one of the top 10 U.S. accounting and consulting firms, has a scholarship aimed at computer science students. To qualify for the Crowe LLP Outstanding Computer Science Student scholarship, recipients must be juniors who are U.S. high school grads with demonstrated leadership skills and an excellent academic record.
No matter the cause or purpose, your scholarship will elevate the image of your accounting firm within the college student community, including their families and friends. And college students constitute a sizable segment of the population — 19.9 million U.S. college students in the fall of 2018.
- Giving back by helping accounting students
Accounting students can also use help paying for their education.
In a recent survey conducted by the New Jersey Society of CPAs (NJSCPA), nearly 70 percent of its members reported that they are still paying off student loan debt and 75 percent of survey participants had student debt exceeding $20,000. While 67 percent of survey participants responded that they expect to pay off their student loan debt within 10 years, 19 percent believed that it will take them more than 15 years to do so.
About half of the NJSCPA survey participants were between the ages of 26 and 30, and about 21 percent were between the ages of 31 and 35.
Allisa Schuller, a marketing and accounting student from Ohio Wesleyan University who graduated in December 2018, is the perfect example of a student who worked as much as she could to minimize her borrowing but still graduated with more than $20,000 in student loans. When her father passed away during her junior year of high school, she knew what was in store for her.
“I knew I would have to support myself through college, so I started working as much as I possibly could,” Schuller told the CPA Voice.
In addition to working up to 40-50 hours a week over summer breaks, she worked every school year of college as well.
“To work like that plus being a straight-A student has been a lot; it adds an extra layer of stress onto everything else I have to worry about,” she added.
Scholarships would help accounting students like Schuller.
And firms like PM Business Advisors’ Striving for Greatness Accounting & Finance Scholarship recognize this. The scholarship is intended for “well-rounded individuals who display both academic excellence in accounting and/or finance as well as involvement in their community.” So, the scholarship serves a dual purpose — helping students in a specific field and rewarding them for their community engagement.
Sponsoring scholarships to accounting students will also help accounting firms attract talent. Your scholarship will leave a favorable impression on them as they are getting themselves ready to launch their career in accounting. Your accounting firm will come across as an attractive employment option for both summer internships and jobs.
The EY Scholars Master’s Program, which covers up to 100 percent of tuition and fees for each qualifying student’s master’s degree program, proves this point. Since 2000, the program has supported more than 400 students and some of them went on to become EY partners and executive directors.
“We continue to be an industry leader in investing in diversity & inclusiveness efforts and know that this investment will help promising new hires build strong technical skills on their existing skill sets,” Ken Bouyer, EY Americas diversity & inclusiveness recruiting leader, said in a statement published on Accounting Today. “We want to support their career journeys from the outset, making them strong long-term performers within EY, as well as leaders in the broader marketplace.”
Scholarships have a huge impact on the students and families who benefit from them, but they are also one of the most powerful marketing tools that can help accounting firms in a world driven by the search engine results. Many accounting firms are already capitalizing on this, and your accounting firm should make use of this as well.
For information on how to sponsor a scholarship, check out our scholarship guide.
We can help you with the process. We can handle the whole process, or just the part that you wish to outsource. We know what works, and can help you craft your message to your target audience.
We have helped many companies, big and small, deliver their brand message to both college and high school students through tailored scholarship programs. Contact TUN now [firstname.lastname@example.org] if you’re ready to start a scholarship, and we will get you started quickly.
Susan Chu is the Content Director of The University Network. She likes to write about trends in higher education.