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Why Recognize?

For the many hours association volunteers spend away from their families, friends, and jobs—not to mention the weekends in airplanes or hotel rooms—they deserve recognition. Recognition is one of the most powerful means of

  • thanking board members and other volunteers for their efforts

  • motivating members and staff to higher levels of achievement

  • giving a sense of belonging to something important

  • establishing your organization as a valuable entity.

Of course, volunteers gain recognition among their peers and even the public by contributing to association publications, giving presentations at conferences, and serving as a spokesperson for the association. Still, all leaders should be formally recognized for their service and contributions at some point before their volunteer commitment ends.

The award need not be elaborate or expensive but it should be appropriate and presented with sincerity. Recognition may be as simple as providing a special ribbon for all volunteer leaders to wear at the convention. Or, it might entail arranging upgraded accommodations or special in-room amenities for those who travel to association meetings. One association might provide volunteers with desk items (mugs and letter openers, for example) displaying its logo while another might host a thank-you reception and give engraved plaques to volunteers.

The most successful associations are those that have programs in place to regularly recognize those who give to or work for them.

How to Develop an Association Recognition Program

When it comes to developing an association awards program, it is important to design one that projects an image of success and attracts members, motivates volunteers and employees, and establishes your association as an important, valuable entity.

Careful planning is the most important part of an effective awards program. When developing one, keep in mind the following tips.

Identify the program’s purpose and objectives

Do you want to show gratitude, recognize membership, encourage achievement, or reward accomplishment? Do you want to create a sense of common belonging or mark someone for distinction?

Do you want to establish a stronger identity for your organization or match the personality of the recipient? Answers to these questions will help you design the right program for your organization.

Decide the kinds of awards you want.

The key to successful recognition is selecting the appropriate kind of award. Tangible awards have proven to be the most effective way—better than money or other means—to say “thank you” or “good job.” In deciding whether to give a plaque, pin, or desk accessory, keep in mind that an appropriate award is

  • representative of what has been accomplished

  • attractive enough to wear or keep at home or in the office

  • consistent with the purpose and image of the organization

  • right for the level of importance of the achievement

  • in line with the organization’s budget

  • well-crafted with the highest quality materials affordable.

Be flexible.

A good awards program will be flexible, yet maintain a basic backbone of structure. Don’t be afraid to discontinue awards that aren’t working (i.e., that receive very few nominations each year). Don’t be afraid to create new awards. Associations change, industries change; your basis for recognition should change as well. That being said, too much change diminishes the importance of an award. An award that’s been given for 20 years will naturally carry more weight than one that was created 1 year ago.

Create a budget and schedule

There are many ways to recognize people and the most expensive are not necessarily the best.

It’s best to work with an awards professional, such as a member of the Awards and Personalization Association, who can help design a budget to meet your objectives and get the most with the funds you have.

Establish the process

Make sure your process is one in which the recipient is decided by a panel of his or her peers. Recognition by peers is powerful. The integrity of an award comes from the credibility of those choosing the recipient of the award. Blinding entries can also be useful for establishing legitimacy.

Plan for the awards presentation

Part of what makes an award memorable and appreciated is the way it is presented. Given that peer recognition is important, make sure the award is presented at a ceremony during which friends and colleagues of the recipient are active participants. The credibility of an award also is established by the authority of the person presenting the award. Think ahead about how you will give various awards. Membership recognition items often are sent through the mail, so you may not want to give something heavy. Fine crystal becomes even more precious when presented in an attractive gift box.

Innovative Awards Programs for Associations

Awards professionals serve thousands of associations throughout the country. They have a wealth of experience in developing innovative awards programs that more than pay for themselves in the form of increased effort and achievement. The following are examples of how awards professionals can increase the effectiveness of your organization.

Membership Recognition

Certificates, plaques, decals, name tags, and lapel pins are common ways to recognize membership, rewarding renewal and encouraging prospective members to join. Awards professionals also can suggest other ideas, including personal calendar books, desk planners, and other items members will want to use and keep for a long time. They also can recommend ways to mark member anniversaries that will assist your member retention efforts.

Service Awards

Whether these are for outgoing board members, chapter directors, speakers, or other volunteers, awards for service to the organization are important both for recognizing those who contributed and for encouraging other members to do the same.


Pins and certificates are standard means of recognizing educational accomplishments in an association. You may also want to consider a plaque designed to add plates or disks as a member completes the courses required for certification.

Contests and Competitions

One of the best ways to draw attention to your association is to develop an association-specific award, like the famous Oscar®, for outstanding achievement in the field you represent. You’ll find awards professionals can show you a number of ways and ideas to recognize those who excel or who win various competitions.

Staff Recognition

Recognizing staff effort is a great way to keep morale and productivity high. Most Motivated Worker, Highest Quality, and the Best Manager are just some awards to consider.

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