Stay Classy, Minnesota!

classy.jpgDisclaimer: About two months ago, I started a new job with Jefferson Awards for Public Service, an organization whose mission is to recognize, inspire and activate volunteerism by presenting awards to those that exhibit outstanding service to their community.

In late March, I attended the National YNPN Leaders Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan and learned about a unique relationship that the San Diego YNPN chapter began with The Classy Awards. The Classy Awards recognize the top philanthropic achievements by charities, businesses, fundraisers and volunteers from across the country, and last year they decided to partner with YNPN San Diego to honor an Outstanding Young Nonprofit Professional. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role that recognition, and more specifically the presentation of awards, plays in the nonprofit sector. Who actually benefits from an awards program, and in what ways? What value does the practice of honoring people and organizations with awards add to the community?

I spoke with Julie Dappen, marketing and communications director at MAP for Nonprofits, about their partnership with the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits to offer the Minnesota Nonprofit Awards each year. By using The Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence as the criteria for determining the Minnesota Nonprofit Award winners, Julie said that it not only creates awareness that this resource exists, but it keeps them in the forefront of peoples’ minds.

The Minnesota Jaycees organizes a yearly awards program called the 10 Outstanding Young Minnesotans. Trisha Reinwald—executive director of the Minnesota Jaycees and YNPN National board member—said one of the most important reasons her organization continues this awards program is because of the power and energy that comes from their annual ceremony. It serves as an opportunity for staff, volunteers, donors and other community supporters to come together and hear the honorees tell their stories of passion and community engagement. 

As evidenced from Julie’s and Trisha’s experience, award recognition programs are valuable in many ways. These programs:

  • Provide recognition to those who perform outstanding work
  • Serve as a statement to the public about what your organization values
  • Create good-will and a sense of loyalty to your organization
  • Help generate awareness and media attention for your organization and for award winners
  • Promote empowerment and involvement in the community
  • Inspire and encourage others to  align with standards and best practices
  • Provide an opportunity to highlight and share success stories in front of large audiences

There are also many considerations to think about before starting your own awards program. A lot of work needs to go into developing a process that is successful and achieves the goals you are hoping for. Here are a few things that should be addressed:

  • What type of contribution do you want to recognize? What values do you want your organization to stand for and be associated with? The mission of your organization might be a good place to start.
  • What are the selection criteria? Who develops the criteria? Is it something that is universally accepted as a best practice, or is it based on personal judgments? Can/should this criteria change over time?
  • Are there other organizations that offer similar awards? How can you make yours stand out and be prestigious? Are there organizations that you could partner with to develop the program?
  • Are winners eligible to win multiple times? Sometimes a person or group may deserve to win again; however, you don’t want to create a perception—whether true or not—of not providing an equal opportunity for all to win.
  • Will there be a nomination process? An in-depth process will help weed out those that don’t measure up. Nevertheless, a long and difficult nomination process can prevent people from completing it.
  • Who selects the winner? Will it be an independent panel of judges or staff and board members? This should be made clear ahead of time.
  • How will you present the awards? Will it be a gala event with other invited guests? Will there be a trophy, certificate, or other tangible award? Will the winners be displayed such as in a hall of fame, on a website, or in a ceremony program?
  • What is the crisis communication plan if one of your award winners is found to have cheated, lied or participated in some other unethical act? Can you take the award back? Should it be addressed with the public, if so how? 

You can see that a lot of good can come from a well designed and well executed award recognition program, but it will also take a large investment of time and energy.

Are you affiliated with an organization that offers awards? How do you think that it has helped (or hurt) the mission of your organization and the community as a whole?

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