There have been a lot of conversations lately, back alley, direct, and otherwise, that have brought some things to my attention concerning our little scholarship effort.
First, I would like to take the time to remind everyone who is participating, either as a donor, a selection committee member, or an applicant, as well as former recipients, that this scholarship is entirely run on passion juice and volunteers. We are not paid for our time or otherwise; we simply believe in this idea. We are not a legal entity nor are we legally bound to the Wine Bloggers Conference. We have a close affiliation with them and they are extraordinarily helpful in assisting us but it is not a tie that binds.
We are a grass roots effort. This is learning by doing and the doing takes a ridiculous amount of work to accomplish. This is also an honor system. As the chair, I – as well as the selection committee – can only rely on the information provided to me by the applicants. We do not have any direct visibility in to the financial records of any applicant. We cannot make any decisions based on information that is not provided. Furthermore, we cannot make any decisions based on any outside influence, such as recipients attending press events, or trips planned by other agencies. We simply do not have visibility in to this.
It is an extraordinarily difficult task to both raise enough funding and to find the appropriate recipients for that funding. I myself, as the chair, do not score any applicants as I am responsible for finding out how to best allocate funding based on the scores provided by the committee. While we do give preferential thought to those bloggers that have not attended a WBC before, this does not always guarantee a scholarship grant.
Because there are several factors that go in to the final decision, a person with a higher score might not secure a spot before a person with a lower overall score. For example, we start with the highest score first. Next, we look at total financial need. We also look at if they require accommodation assistance. Based on these factors, we then try to maximize the funding available by slotting in as many people as possible. If you request $300, and three additional people request $95 each, it is possible that one or more of the three people requesting $95 each would secure a spot prior to the person requesting $300, solely based on the available funding. Additionally, we look closely at accommodation requests. As we purchase rooms on behalf of the recipients, we need to fill a double occupancy room. Let’s say a male with a score of 750 (let’s say that’s the highest out of all applicants) gets the first slot automatically, by virtue of him being the highest score. If there are 4 females and 1 male left on the roster, the next male gets that spot first as we need to fill the room. Failure to do so results in a funding deficit as we are paying for an empty bed in a room.
However, while every effort is made to ensure that we can fund as many applicants as possible, sometimes, the selection process has to sacrifice quantity for quality. Many high scoring and high financial need requests might result in fewer scholarship recipients as we try to look for bloggers that are new to the community, and new to the conference. As we have no idea what is going on outside of the Scholarship, this can be a judgement call but it is based on the information provided. Again, this is strictly an honor system. If Joey went to Pluto on a press junket, we aren’t sent the newpaper clipping so we have no way of knowing this; nor should this factor in our decision. Prior or planned press trips have no bearing on financial need as stated by the applicant. As these trips are funded by the agency or brand, the blogger is not financial responsible.
We also do not personally know the applicants. While there may be some prior friendships amongst the committee and applicants, as the committee is formed prior to the applications being received, we cannot make that determination ahead of time. We do our best to be impartial and if a committee member feels strongly that they are not able to be impartial, they are free to and encouraged to recuse themselves. There are thousands of wine blogs out there. We have seen over 100 applicants over the last 4 years. In the beginning, I knew one applicant. Now, I know most of them from past years. This year I know 3. It’s an impossibility to know if our friends, enemies or family will apply until after they do so. This is why we have at least 6 committee members scoring, to average out the numbers.
It is an imperfect system but it is the best we can do and similar to any judging scenario. Moving forward we will shake this up a bit. If and when there is a WBC 2013 Scholarship program, which due to economical and emotional reason may not happen, we will weight first time attendees more heavily than in previous years. This does not exclude repeat attendees however. In the interest of transparancy, please see our selection criteria here.
Additionally, the question has been posed if we should disqualify any blogger who has previously received a scholarship. I will not vote on this as it’s more important what YOU the blogging public and donors think, so please let me know. If you have received funding (any at all? Maximum allowed lifetime amount?) should you be barred from applying again? PLEASE VOTE HERE Do you have additional feedback about the Scholarship? Please use the form above to submit your questions, comments, and concerns.