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How to increase your chance of winning at charity awards

10 March 2020

What do organisations gain from winning awards – and how can you increase your chances of getting a gong?

Your CEO might fancy the idea of stepping into the spotlight at a glittering do. But for comms teams tasked with the hard work, gathering evidence for entry forms is a pain – especially when it feels like there’s more direct ways to support your cause.

However, your senior leader could have a point. Winning an award can be a huge morale boost for hard-working staff and volunteers. Plus even being shortlisted can raise your sector profile and help attract funding.

With that in mind here’s how to maximise your chance of winning – and seize the opportunity when you do – with tips from recent award winner James Watson-O’Neill, CEO at SignHealth, the deaf people’s charity.

1. Choose a credible award

“Some awards can feel like a bit of a money-making scheme – especially if you’ve got to pay for a table,” says James. So bearing in mind last year SignHealth scooped the Board Diversity and Inclusivity gong at Clothwokers’ Company Charity Governance Awards – what spurred them to enter?

“One of the attractions for us was that the Charity Governance Awards felt credible,” he says. “They were also free to enter and came with a cash prize of £5,000 for the charity. That was important when we were making a decision.

Top tip: Informally ask ex-winners about their experiences. Did they get enough out of the award to justify entering?

2. Enter strategically

But it isn’t just the cash. Make sure the award fits in with your wider strategic priorities. Ask yourself: ‘will winning this award help us meet our goals?’

James says that raising the charity’s profile with funders was one of their strategic goals. Plus, the charity had gone on a genuine journey with diversity, making sure deaf people were fully represented at board level. The award gave them a good opportunity to talk about their progress.

Top tip: Play to your strengths. Make sure you enter a category where you have something unique to offer to stand out from the rest.

3. Invest time in your entry

Most awards hinge on wowing judges on the entry form. Sadly, this can feel like compiling an annual report – you have to reach out to different areas of your organisation and build solid evidence of your good work. One smart approach is to treat it like a job interview. Read the criteria carefully to be sure you supply the facts judges need. Give yourself plenty of time and don’t be shy – take the chance to shout about your achievements.

Top tip: Designate a person (or small team) as lead for the entry. Task them with compiling what you need.

4. Celebrate successes

If you do win, take time to celebrate it across your organisation. Ironically, the night of their win SignHealth’s board were on an away day. Colleagues were sent to accept it, and James says that it was a huge moment when they arrived with the gong. “We’re proud of the work we do so winning the award felt really validating,” he says. “It was great to share that feeling with all the people who’d put in the hard work.”

Top tip: Seats may be limited for the ceremony. So make sure you have a social event that everyone can attend to celebrate together.

5. Keep the momentum going

Don’t let the hard-earned buzz of an awards win fade too fast. Taking practical steps to capitalise on your success can help your organisation gain the most from your achievement. This can be as simple as sending a press release to the charity (or consumer) press. Or putting the award itself out in reception for visitors to see. James used their win to help shine the spotlight on a new initiative. “We didn’t want to lose the momentum of the award,” he says. “You have to move fast because you know in a few months’ time someone else will have won. We capitalised on our award by launching a new shadow trustee scheme to attract young people who’d like to try being on a board. The award helps validate the quality of the work you’re doing.”

Top tip: Remember to share your win on social media – and thank the people who made it possible.

If you want to put this information into practice remember that the CharityComms’ Inspiring Communicators Awards launch later this year. Find out about last year’s winners here.

Photo: Jason Leung on Unsplash

Matt Chittock

copywriter, freelance

Matt Chittock is an experienced copywriter, journalist and proofreader working in the not-for-profit sector.