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).

In Part 1 of this four-part series, we revisited the purpose of chapter awards and provided some real-life examples of different types of chapter awards. Now, let’s look at three new approaches to chapter awards and ways to promote and improve the chapter awards submission process.



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?



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 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.



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.


Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty of scoring applications, selecting winners, and finding better prizes for award winners—the topics of Part 3 in this series.

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.