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Awards: The Nomination Process

June 18, 2008


Awards are critical to your NPD event; after all, they are the main reason everyone is getting together: to honor someone in the community with an award.  So make sure your award process runs smoothly and effectively. 

You might want to pattern your awards, criteria, nomination forms, and entry requirements after those presented by AFP at its annual International Conference.  International Headquarters encourages this to allow chapters to easily nominate its local winners for the overall awards presented at the International Conference.  The Awards for Philanthropy include the Outstanding Philanthropist, Volunteer Fundraiser, Corporation, Foundation, Fundraising Professional, and Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy. However, many chapters offer other awards.  Some examples include:

  • Outstanding Media Outlet (or Best Nonprofit Media Coverage)
  • Outstanding Fundraising Campaign
  • Outstanding Community Business Leader
  • Outstanding Community Award

Nomination forms for AFP’s Awards for Philanthropy and other awards programs can be found at the AFP website ( by clicking on “NPD and AFP Awards” in the left-hand column. The AFP Public Affairs Department can assist you by helping develop your awards criteria or providing samples of what other chapters are doing. 

Different Ways to Honor People

In addition to honoring outstanding young philanthropists, many chapters also look at ways to increase the number of people who are recognized every year. They allow organizations that sponsor tables to designate an employee or volunteer who will be recognized at the event. Others create different types of honors that do not require a judging committee—nominators simply submit names and if the honorees meet a few basic criteria, they will be recognized.

For example, the AFP Alabama Gulf Coast Chapter created a new honor called the “Award of Merit for Distinguished Charitable Donor.” The award can be given to no more than six recipients each year, and they must be nominated by an AFP member in good standing. The award was designed for those individuals who would not normally be considered as ‘outstanding philanthropist’ or ‘outstanding volunteer fundraiser,’ but have still made substantial gifts over the years and been vocal supporters of the causes they support.

For several years the AFP Silicon Valley Chapter’s awards have included the Distinguished Volunteer Fundraising category, with 30 to 50 honorees annually. The award recognizes the service and leadership of fundraising volunteers, and the chapter presents the awards to the first 50 nominees who meet the criteria. Nonprofit organizations may submit only one nominee for the award, although a group, such as a committee or an auxiliary, may be nominated. All of the honorees are required to appear for a scheduled group photograph session, and each also receives a resolution passed by the California State Assembly.

The inclusion of a Lifetime Achievement Award is a way to supercharge your event.  This special award should probably not be given annually and great care must be taken to insure that any individual being so honored is universally seen as deserving.  Some chapters make the Lifetime Achievement Award a board level decision, separate from the event nomination and judging process.


Choose a judging committee of no fewer than five people.  The committee can include foundation executives, corporate executives, advertising/fundraising agency executives, nonprofit executive directors, and/or local celebrities, such as the mayor or a local TV personality.  Here are a few guidelines for the judging process. 

The panel of judges should be permitted to name more than one recipient in any given year or not to name a recipient in any given year. In practice, however, it is not a good idea to recognize more than one winner as it tends to cheapen the award and cause logistical problems as well (which winner speaks first at the event?). It is far better practice to choose one and keep the other nominee in mind for next year.

  • Nominations should be kept active for two years. The nominators will appreciate not having to do all the work again, and this policy can help avoid ties.
  • Announce and stand firm that the decision of the panel judges shall be final.
  • Make sure that everyone on the committee understands the exact criteria upon which to base their judging, as well as the exact process and time commitment required.
  • In their awards programs, some chapters use a point system to rate nominations. This method can be very helpful, but the points themselves shouldn’t decide who the winner is. Discussion among the judges is a critical part of analyzing the nominees and determining a winner. Using just a points system may skew results depending on how each judge allocates points. For example, the AFP Awards Committee uses a point system to help identify the top three or four nominees for each awards category. If a nomination is scored high by a majority of the judges, that nomination moves to the “final round.” At that point, discussion takes over, and judges talk about why they graded each nominee as they did and what they found appealing about each nomination. In almost every case, this process ultimately brings out an honoree that the entire committee agrees upon. In the rare case where discussion is deadlocked over two nominees, the points or rankings can be used to help identify a winner.
  • Some chapters are opening up their awards process, allowing nominations from individuals beyond the chapter membership and allowing organizations to self-nominate. Some chapters have reported a significant increase in nominations by following this process. However, chapters need to ensure that all nominations meet the same high standards.


Set a deadline for submitting nominations and do not accept late entries.

Determine whether you will accept entries by fax, email or solely through the mail. Is a postmark on the deadline date acceptable or must the nomination be received on or before the day of the deadline?

While nomination forms can follow any format, the chapter must find a balance between allowing too much information and supporting material, and not having enough information to make an informed and quality choice.  AFP strongly encourages chapters to use criteria it has developed for its Awards for Philanthropy program (available on the AFP website – – under “NPD and AFP Awards”).

Your nomination policy should be stated clearly on the nomination forms.

For example, announce that all nomination materials submitted shall remain the property of your chapter.  Before nominating individuals, they must be contacted to make certain they will accept an award if chosen and attend the NPD event.  If a last-minute situation occurs that prevents the honoree from appearing, perhaps a video could be made of the individual’s remarks.  But this should be a rare occasion and certainly not advertised.  There may be other rules that must be made to avoid confusion.

One especially sensitive issue is whether or not awards can be given posthumously, and what occurs if an honoree or nominee passes away before the event or during the judging process.  While this is rare, it has happened on several occasions. Your awards committee should spend just a couple of minutes developing a policy for this situation.  AFP International Headquarters’ awards policy is to not allow posthumous nominations, but it will continue to consider a nominee if he or she passes away after the nomination has been received. Chapters are free to develop whichever policy they feel is most appropriate.

Many groups list previous winners on their nomination forms to provide an idea of the type of person who might be suitable for an award.  This also keeps people from wasting their – and your – time by nominating a past recipient.

The nomination process should be publicized as widely as possible

Nomination forms should be distributed to your chapter members, as well as to members of the philanthropic community (i.e. nonprofit organizations, local foundations, corporate officers). Consider sending a news release to your local newspaper calling for nominations.  This distribution will probably be your first opportunity to make a body of people aware of NPD.  Your cover letter should reflect your eagerness to get them involved and participating in NPD. Chapters will probably want to make award selections early in the year, since your honorees generate excitement about the event and, as much as possible, should be a crucial element of all marketing and publicity activities leading up to the event.

One packet containing information about all of the awards is very helpful.

Produce a Nomination Packet that explains the significance of NPD and your chapter's planned celebration in greater detail. Depending on your budget, this packet can be mailed as an initial contact, or only upon request after you have used a brochure or letter to alert interested parties to the awards ceremony.  See the awards packet on AFP’s website for a potential model (, under “NPD and AFP Awards”).

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