Do Your Chapter Awards Spark Joy?

Chapter awards are a longtime tradition for associations, but since it’s spring cleaning season, maybe it’s time to give them the Marie Kondo treatment. This four-part series will help you take a look at the different components of your chapter awards program and decide which elements to keep, which to repair, and which to put in the “discard” pile.


Revisit the Purpose of Your Chapter Awards Program

Think about the goals of your chapter awards program. Is your existing program the best way to achieve those goals, or is there a better way? What about other organizational goals—can the chapter awards program help your association move closer to achieving some of them?

Ideally, your awards program recognizes and rewards the chapters that help you fulfill your association’s mission and provide a valuable membership experience. But the awards must also be meaningful enough that chapter leaders will take the time to apply for them.

Sure, when you publicly recognize their achievements, volunteer leaders and chapter staff get a moment of pride and fame in the spotlight. But wouldn’t it be even better if you shared their success stories throughout the year?

The high standard set by awards can help move chapters in the right direction. At the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR), their awards entry checklist serves as a handy benchmark for chapters to establish their yearly goals and strategic priorities.


Types of Chapter Awards

Although we refer to “chapter” awards throughout this series of posts, many associations also have awards programs for other components, such as sections and councils.


Make it a fair competition by judging chapters within size groups. For example, NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement selects a Small, Medium, Large, and X-Large winner for their Chapter of the Year Awards.

Or, you could judge by geographic region. CUPA-HR selects four regional winners for their Chapter Excellence Award, and one National winner from that group.


Why give the A+ chapters all the prizes? Wouldn’t it be motivating for everyone to see the chapter who was once failing and is now earning a solid B- get rewarded for its efforts?

The American Marketing Association gives the Turn-It-Up Chapter of the Year Award to the chapter with the most significant overall improvement given the obstacles they had to overcome throughout the year.

Or, recognize a chapter that has risen from the dust. The Case Management Society of America (CMSA) gives the Award of Excellence for Chapter Revitalization: The Phoenix to the chapter that “experienced issues that almost closed the chapter within the last two to three years, but through hard work and dedication has breathed new life into the chapter and made it sustainable once again.”


Many associations give out chapter awards for excellence in membership development, educational programming, and public policy and advocacy. We found a few other interesting categories.

CMSA also recognizes chapters for the best use of technology, conference planning, and publishing and promotional materials.

AFCEAN’s Young AFCEAN Chapter Award recognizes a chapter in each of their five size groups “which has most significantly contributed to the professional development of younger AFCEANs by providing a forum of programs and initiatives geared to their unique needs.”

Their Diversity Program Award recognizes chapters that have “most significantly contributed to the inclusion, contribution, leadership and professional development of under-represented AFCEANs, such as women, enlisted personnel, young people and other minorities, by providing a forum of programs and initiatives geared to their unique needs.”

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) rewards chapter collaboration—and alignment with National. Their Excellence in Chapter Collaboration Award recognizes a chapter that worked “with an outside group to achieve a mutually beneficial goal while actively supporting National’s vision, mission and values.”

AACN also gives out chapter awards for community education and public service, leadership development, and promoting the value of certification—a great way to recognize chapters that help promote National’s programs.

A growing awards category is chapter innovation. The Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) Extraordinary Innovation Award recognizes “extraordinary innovation in any category including, but not limited to programming, community outreach, retention or membership drives, chapter promotion, industry engagement, professional development, or any other act done by a chapter or chapters working in concert.”

To ensure your awards program attracts plenty of interest, don’t go overboard on achievement awards. Your awards (and their winners) will attract more attention when only a handful of chapters are in the spotlight.

Transform Your Chapter Awards Program from a PITA to a Pleasure

Chapter awards should be a popular event. After all, you’re shining the spotlight on volunteers and staff who work so hard to advance your mission and create a meaningful membership experience. But if chapters are bored with it all or think the submission process is daunting, your awards program might be considered a Pain-In-The-A** (you-know-what).


3 Unconventional Approaches to Chapter Awards

If you want to try something different, consider one of these three strategies.



Recognize chapters that help your association fulfill its goals, like the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) does with its Excellence in Chapter Collaboration Award. Think about the behavior you would like chapters to model, for example, encouraging certification. Identify a specific goal and reward the chapter that best achieves it.



Pose a problem and invite chapters to solve it. Ask chapters to submit their plan, metrics, success story, and lessons learned, and reward the chapters with the most helpful case studies. The members of the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) were seeking “inspiration for new mobile marketing tactics,” but MMA didn’t have any case studies to offer them. They started an awards program to collect member success stories and now have a vast selection in their case study hub.

The MMA awards recognize members but you could apply this approach to chapters. Identify a common problem and invite chapters to experiment with solutions and share their stories.



We all learn from success stories, but sometimes the best lessons come from experiments gone wrong. One of the most popular events at the ASAE Technology Conference is Fail Fest: “a celebration of mistakes and mishaps,” but more importantly a recognition of “failure as a key part to innovation, growth, and improvement.”

Ask chapters to submit their “fail tale.” Pick a group of finalists and invite them to present their story at an annual event. The audience votes for “the most epic fail tale” and a Fail Fest Champion is crowned. Or, you could warm up your chapters to the idea by sharing fail tales online and asking chapter leaders to vote for a champion.

ASAE runs this annual event to encourage members to share lessons learned, remove the stigma from failure, and reward experimentation and exploration. Wouldn’t your chapters benefit from a program like this?


Publicize the Benefits of Applying For a Chapter Award

With everything else your chapter leaders have to do, why on earth would they spend precious time completing an awards application? Keep this challenge in mind as you develop a plan for promoting your chapter awards—and as you develop your awards application, more on that in a minute.

Sure, the recognition is great, but is it enough? How else would chapters and their leaders (or staff) benefit from winning an award? Think about prizes and post-award promotions that would motivate chapters to apply for an award—we’ll share some ideas in Parts 3 and 4 of this series.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) identified four ways their chapters benefit from applying for and/or winning a Chapter Excellence Award:

  • It provides a historical perspective on chapter activities.
  • It aids in planning and knowledge-transfer for the next leadership team.
  • It’s a recruitment tool for potential members or sponsors.
  • It provides a monetary award for the chapter.


NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement tells its chapters that the chapter awards application process provides an opportunity to reflect and record the achievements of their past year and strategize on establishing new goals. In addition, questions raised while planning for the entry helps chapters rethink programs and improve processes.


Promote Your Chapter Awards Program

Promote your awards program on all your regular chapter communication channels, but also take advantage of peer-to-peer marketing. Work with past winners on developing testimonials about how the award made a difference for their chapter. Ask past winners to post reminders about application deadlines on your chapter leader collaboration or community platform.

In an ASAE Collaborate discussion, Rhonda Ledbetter, chapter relations representative at the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants (TXCPA), shared another good idea:

“At the annual orientation for chapter presidents-elect, former presidents (who select the award recipients) share tips for completion of the form, including the use of simple, bulleted blurbs with measurables rather than essay-style paragraphs.”

Announce the nomination period well in advance. Make it long enough so busy volunteers can find the time to work on an application but not so long that momentum and buzz languishes—about four weeks is typical.

Create a User-Friendly Submission Process

The awards entry form must ask for enough information to help judges spot an extraordinary chapter, but not so much that the form itself becomes a barrier to entry.

You could try a different approach than the typical entry form. For example, the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) asks its award applicants to share their story in the online Volunteer Hub. If you take this route, provide an entry checklist so you can compare apples to apples.

Or, you could request video “applications.” Again, post a checklist so volunteers provide sufficient information for judges.



Give chapters the guidance they need to submit a winning application. The ASAE Foundation asked some of their past Innovation Grants Program applicants for their top ten tips for successful proposals. ASAE also provides guidance for entering their Power of A Awards.

In addition to print, consider webinars and videos. The American College of Radiology (ACR) posted a YouTube video recording of a webinar on “What You Need to Know” about their chapter recognition awards.



During the Association Component Exchange (CEX), several component relations professionals talked about the tools they use for forms and applications, including awards entry forms. Two popular choices were JotForm and WuFoo by Survey Monkey. You could also use software specifically designed for awards submission and judging, for example, OpenWaterRhythmQ, or WizeHive.



Awards applicants should be in compliance with reporting and other requirements. To ensure a fresh selection of winners every year, some associations specify how often a chapter can win an award. For example, at the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR), a chapter is ineligible to receive an award more than once every three years.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) takes a different approach. Winning chapters enter their Platinum Club of Continuing Excellence after earning an award five or more years in a row.

How to Make Chapter Awards More Appealing for Applicants & Judges

Chapter awards get a lot of buzz for a day or two when winners are announced. But after that? Sadly, the winning chapters are usually forgotten by everyone, except the staff and members who labored over the judging process.

How can you make chapter awards more meaningful to the winning chapters and everyone else in your chapter network? Well, as you might expect, we found some good ideas in the association community to share with you.


Scoring Applications & Selecting Winners

Here’s a recap of a commonly used (and proven) process for judging chapter awards. As entries come in, National staff reviews the applications to verify information and make sure they meet eligibility criteria. Then, a judges panel or task force takes over.



The judges panel should only include chapter leaders and staff who have enough knowledge of chapter operations and National expectations to make wise decisions. Ideally, find a mix of veteran judges who can provide guidance on the judging process and newbies who can provide a fresh perspective.

Make sure judges have enough entry form information to make a decision but not so much that they’re overwhelmed and won’t volunteer again. If you receive many applications, divide them up into batches, so each judge only has to review a limited selection, but each application gets more than one set of eyes. Calculate an average score for each application. Finally, the judging panel reviews the finalists and makes any necessary scoring adjustments.



To maintain your awards program’s integrity, your scoring process must be transparent. Many associations post their points-based scoring system on their website for all to see. Here are two examples:


Post a selection criteria checklist as well. The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) created a checklist that their chapters now use as a benchmark to establish their yearly goals and strategic priorities.

Review your criteria and scoring system every few years to make sure they still serve the goals of your awards program. Evaluate its fairness. Do criteria favor one type of chapter? For example, small vs. large membership, small vs. large budget, or staff- vs. volunteer-managed?



Remember the reason you have a chapter awards program in the first place: to recognize the efforts of extraordinary chapters (and their leadership teams) and to share their success stories with other chapters. You want to encourage the busy volunteer leaders of these A+ chapters to take the time to apply for an award. But what do they get for their efforts? Just the obligatory plaque?

Give your stellar chapters something they will really value, for example, scholarships to attend your association’s annual conference or chapter leadership conference.

The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) chooses four regional winners for their Chapter Excellence Award and then one national winner from that group. The regional winners each receive two scholarships to attend the spring regional conference, and the national winner receives four annual conference scholarships. These scholarships cover expenses for conference registration, airfare/transportation, and hotel accommodation.

Another way to facilitate leadership development is to award scholarships for external conferences or for online courses and learning programs—either your association’s or other programs. You could also reward winning chapters with a facilitated strategic planning session or on-site leadership training.

Think of ways to help chapters show off their accomplishment. CUPA-HR also gives award winners a podium banner to use at chapter events. The National Schools Public Relations Associations (NSPRA) provides a “mark of distinction” logo for award-winning chapters to use on their websites, newsletters, and stationery.

The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) provides a digital badge for its Innovation Award recipient. Digital badges can be displayed on websites, social platforms, and collaboration platforms, like the AMTA Volunteer Hub.

Boring to Buzzing: Pro Tips on Glamming Up Your Chapter Awards

You don’t need Lady Gaga on stage to glam up your chapter awards. But if you’ve been following the same old script for years, maybe it’s time to rethink how you do things. Don’t worry, we’re talking an Oscar Mayer budget here, not an Oscars budget.



Award winners deserve a bigger audience than just the people who attend the awards presentation. Make a big deal of the event by promoting a livestream of the ceremony on your website and social platforms.

Livestreamed events have a better chance of succeeding when you have a dedicated host for your virtual audience. The virtual host can warm up the crowd with trivia contests and other icebreakers—a good way for them to share stories too.

Post the video recording on your website and YouTube channel. Depending on the length, you may want to break it up into parts, so people are more likely to click on it when they have a little time to spare.



Are the only people at your awards presentation the ones who have some skin in the game (award applicants) and the ones who feel obliged to go (staff and leaders)? Associations always wrestle with this challenge, but a few have experimented successfully with new approaches.

The Textbook & Academic Authors Association (TAA)’s new awards reception and ceremony takes place 15 minutes after the last annual conference session. “The benefit of structuring it this way is that you are capturing your audience, and you’re making it so that they’re not going to leave and go up to their room,” said Kim Pawlak, director of publishing and operations, in an Associations Now article.

Louise Ristau, CAE, is the executive director of the Awards and Personalization Association, so naturally she shared some great advice in another Associations Now article.

For your ceremony’s host, she said, “Identify a member who has charisma, who has a presence that can serve as a host. They may appreciate the opportunity to help out, and if they’re well-received, they might serve in that capacity for several years.”

You definitely must develop a script for the event. The presentations segment should be “30 to 45 minutes tops.” Louise suggested using “graphics, videos, photos—whatever your budget allows.” These formats “help to add another dimension to the presentation to keep it interesting.”

Consider creating a template ahead of time for presenters and winners so they keep their speech meaningful and to the point—focusing on the why, what, and how.

Louise suggested recruiting award presenters who know the recipients and can help craft introductions. “They might have a story about that recipient from 10 years ago that the person writing the script doesn’t know about,” she said. They “can get personal and share the emotion behind the award.”

Sarah Lawler, a marketing and communications professional with more than 20 years of experience with association awards programs, said in that same Associations Now article, “Use video to tell the awardee’s story so when they come up to the mic that part is covered and they can get right to the thank you’s.”

She suggested scheduling a half-hour rehearsal with the hosts, presenters, and recipients—if they’re not surprise awards—to walk through the logistics.



Chapter awards have an educational purpose: to share success stories (and lessons learned) with other chapters. It takes a great deal of work on the chapter’s part to submit an awards application, and on the National staff and volunteers’ part to score applications and select winners. These stories deserve a longer life.

Create evergreen content from your award-winning success stories.

  1. Turn them into case studies for your chapter leader resource center on your website.
  2. Repurpose the case studies into blog posts.
  3. Interview the winners for videos that you post on your website, blog, social platforms, and YouTube channel. ASAE does that for their Power of A Awards.
  4. Transcribe the recordings, edit the transcript into a Q&A post, and turn that into another resource for your blog and website.

Ask chapter award winners to present their story at your chapter leadership conference and in webinars.

Louise Ristau said, “You award people one night, but you have to celebrate the awards throughout the year, keep the awareness level up, and get people excited about the possibility of achieving the award themselves.”

About the author

Sarah has a soft-spot for component relations professionals (CRPs), creating amazing experiences, and having a good laugh. She focuses her time at Billhighway on building and delivering chapter-focused resources, creating unique experiences for CRPs through webinars, events and the one-of-a-kind Component Exchange (CEX). Sarah is passionate about exploring new ideas and trying new things. What we really want to say is Sarah is a component bad@$$ who is sure to put a smile on your face.