Five Considerations for Building an Effective Awards Program

Launching or revamping an awards program can be a great way to give attention to members new and old, raise your public profile, and even bring in some revenue. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Awards programs, if developed effectively, can have a halo effect on your organization, building authority and showing the public the power and strength of your industry in one fell swoop.

After all, we care about Emmys and Oscars, right?

But launching an awards program has other functions, too, such as a potential revenue boost and membership drive. Here are five tips to get you started:

1. Understand Your Goals and Audience

Why do you want to start an awards program—and who is it for?

This is an important question to answer early as you launch the program. Some potential goals include attracting new members and drawing attention to your industry.

As the software provider OpenWater noted in its Executive Playbook [registration], awards programs are good for publicity—especially when it comes to reaching potential new members, who are often costly to reach through traditional means. You still need to advertise, though.

“Your audience doesn’t just want to know who won, they want to know why they won as well,” the company stated. “A well-organized marketing campaign that showcases winners supports recruitment and celebrates those who have already participated in your program.”

OpenWater recommended aiming beyond your usual target audience, as it can help to expand your base over time.

2. Bring in Some Software Tools

Handing out the awards is the easy part—it’s managing the entries that can get complicated. You may want to consider an award management software suite (a few examples include OpenWater, AwardStage, Judgify, and Evalato), which can help you set up a website to manage entries and simplify the judging process.

When selecting a tool, keep integration in mind, specifically integration and compatibility with your association management software.

3. Build a Revenue Model

While associations may want to launch awards programs to celebrate their industry, it’s also important to consider the model from a financial point of view.

As explained in an article by Evalato, there are two ways to make awards programs an effective revenue driver—one, by making the program pay-per-entry and open to any interested entrant; and two, by making the program free to enter for paid members.

“In order to be successful, such programs should be approached strategically and every step should be planned well in advance,” the piece said.

If handled effectively, the result can be a big revenue generator. For example, the American Distilling Institute has found financial success by tying its awards (most recently under the International Spirits Competition name) to an event.

4. Don’t Leave Anyone Out

Another consideration is diversity, something that many organizations have worked hard to improve over the years. (Think about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ controversies, which required a shift in membership and a change in rules to help resolve.)

Many associations have awards dedicated specifically to diversity, equity, and inclusion—a few good examples include the Mortgage Bankers Association’s DEI Leadership Awards, the American Water Works Association’s Diversity & Inclusion Award, and the Society of American Archivists’ Diversity Award. Doing so can help send a message to members that you’re taking the issue seriously and working to highlight the efforts happening on this front.

Paying more attention to DEI can also be an opportunity for an organizational reset—something the Romance Writers of America found when it replaced a long-standing award model with The Vivian, which aims to not only support DEI but also to help recognize unpublished authors in the field.

Focusing on newbies builds inclusion while also expanding your member base. OpenWater cited the Greeting Card Association’s LOUIE Awards, which offer a Rising Star category that grants winners free membership to the organization on top of their award. “This means the Greeting Card Association is guaranteed to recruit at least two new companies each year and target those who are up-and-coming in the industry and will make valuable additions to their organization,” OpenWater explained.

5. Consider Conflicts of Interest

If not managed carefully, awards programs can generate ethics challenges that can undermine your reputation and even damage the award’s brand, as seen with the Golden Globes in recent years.

In a 2019 article, American Psychological Association interim ethics director Lindsay Childress-Beatty recommended building a clear criteria around who is eligible, accounting for potential business and family conflicts that can arise, along with conflicts between nominees and the selection committee, and the risks of special treatment.

“Once the candidates for the award are determined, ask the committee members if any have a conflict, and give helpful examples of possible conflicts,” she wrote.

Do you have any advice for launching a new award model? Share your insights in the comments below.

(Warchi/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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