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.



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? We think so and share some suggestions for that in Part 4 of this series.

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.



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.


Check out Part 2 in this chapter awards series where we discuss three unconventional approaches to chapter awards and suggest ways to increase entries for your awards competition.

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.