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.

But before we get started, if you haven’t already, check out the first two posts in this four-part chapter awards series. In Part 1, we revisited the purpose of chapter awards and provided examples of different types of chapter awards. In the Part 2, we looked at unconventional approaches to chapter awards, promotional tactics, and the award entry process.



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.


Now, it’s time for the big moment—the awards presentation, as well as post-event award promotions. We’ll cover these topics in Part 4 of this series.

About the author

Charlotte Muylaert is the former Marketing Leader at Billhighway and greekbill. She oversaw the marketing and branding strategies for 10 years in the fraternal and association markets.