Chamber awards. Does your chamber give them? What kind? How are they given? Who qualifies?
For such a simple idea – recognize and reward people – there are a lot of questions on this topic. We’ve seen a lot of discussions in our Chamber of Commerce Professionals Group on Facebook so we’ve compiled many of the questions and best answers in this article for you.
Questions and answers addressed on the topic of chamber awards include:
- Picking winners while avoiding personality contests
- Why the chamber should give awards (or not)
- Secret awards versus telling winners
- Creative award names for young professionals
- Scholarship award programs
- And more
Read the responses of over 120 chamber professionals below.
QUESTION: There has been a lot of talk lately about Annual Meetings and award banquets, and I have a question on something that has bugged me since I became the director of our chamber. We give out three awards, one is a Director Award, and our Board picks that person, and I’m OK with that one.
We also have Exemplary Business Award and Community and Spirit Award, and the winner is picked after we accept nominations from the primary of each member. We narrow the nominations down to three nominee’s and than we send out ballots to pick a winner. That is where I have an issue because it becomes a personality contest, and it should be based on their success or with the Community and Spirit award, what they have done for the community.
Can you share how you pick your winners for your categories?
Christa Kozy, former President at Lake Township Chamber of Commerce:
We have a small committee of members from different parts of the business community, handpicked by me because they aren’t “prone to popular vote” pressure and we discuss the candidates at the meeting, then they email me individually with their vote. The overall “feel” at our awards dinner is always very genuine, because the people being honored are truly those that people don’t see every day touting their achievements.
We take nominations from everywhere and our board votes on those awards based on the merit of the application.
Cooper Whitman, former President/CEO at Corvallis Chamber of Commerce:
We ask for nominations, and then we, as staff, pick ’em. Nobody’s ever asked how, so we’ve never had to defend the practice. We will, for sure, at some point. But for now, it works because nobody knows better than us what business or volunteer has served the community best. Eventually, I’m sure, we’ll have to come up with a formal process that seems more fair. That’ll be a bummer.
Kimi Gobie, Administrative Assistant at Hardin County Chamber of Commerce:
We take nominations, then narrow it down to three. Next we have our board and past winners make a selection, most votes wins. We do quite a few more awards, Chamber Service – Community Service – Going the Extra Mile – Public Servant – Student of the Year (High school picks the winner) Educator of the Year – Volunteer of the Year – Friend of Tourism – Industry of the Year – Man of the Year – Woman of the Year
Mary Ann Miller, former President/CEO at Tempe Chamber of Commerce:
We have a Business Excellence committee led by our immediate past chair. Members include the event’s prime sponsor(s) and past recipients (never “winners” — that creates “losers”). Nominees fill out an application and come in for interviews. Our volunteer of the year is chosen by staff, and a separate committee determines our Spirit of Tempe recipient — sort of a lifetime achievement award.
Mary K. Parsons, Board Member, Fountain Valley Chamber:
We have a judges panel comprised of non-biased business or community leaders
Jeff Smith, President-CEO at Greenwood County Community Foundation:
Independent panels for all major awards. No current board members or chamber staff allowed.
Mary Ellen Hunt Dombrowski, President at Connecticut River Valley Chamber:
Our business person of the year nominations come from the membership and the past recipients select the winner.
We get nominations from the public, then our committee makes the decision.
Jason E. Camis, President & CEO at Gardner Edgerton Chamber of Commerce:
We have a small committee select the winner of each award (three total) from nominations received by members. I help break ties if needed based on knowledge I might have of their business, etc. that others do not. Otherwise I just try to answer questions if the committee has any.
For our Business Awards, we have a separate committee of judges who score each application with a scoring sheet (each question – about 5 – 7 – are weighted). We have 3 judges per category and the top 3 scores of each category are named a finalist. The very top score is the winner which is not announced until the night of the event.
Why Give Awards?
QUESTION: For those that do awards banquets… I am invariably asked why the chamber feels it is important to give awards… my reply is along the lines of to let the winners know that people DO recognize what they’re doing and want to let them know that.
Tracy Sisson Phillips, President/CEO of Port Hueneme Chamber of Commerce:
Some sound bites I recently used: strengthens/builds sense of community; allows chamber to give back/reward excellence; tradition-we just celebrated 74 years as a chamber and have been presenting awards for over 50;
Honestly no one’s ever asked. Our community love our Citizen of the Year, Senior Citizen of the Year, Young Citizen of the Year, and Educator of the Year awards. PLUS, it’s a great way to get the local community to come to our banquet. We got THREE new individual members at our banquet this year because they were attending to see someone they know get an award. (in a town of 2500, 3 new members is a big deal)
Jason E. Camis:
I’m surprised that people ask that. If they did here, we’d probably just say that it’s an opportunity for us to celebrate some business/individual accomplishments.
Teri Wilson Edwards, Executive Director at Twin City Chamber of Commerce:
It’s usually the radio stations that ask this for sound bites…
Robert Goltz, President/CEO at Business Partnership of Davie & Cooper City:
We recognize individuals (businesses and their owners/employees) because without them our cities and companies would not be around. I typically check out our tax base and find that our businesses pay more in the taxes locally and on the county level than our residents. Providing for our areas quality of life, police and fire departments. They are the largest contributors to the areas non-profits providing assistance to the local community. They are typically the driving force for growth in a community. by providing leadership insight. Without them who should be the generator of income to support the employees in your community. You may want to check the taxes out.
Typically, your City’s Finance department will have this information. It should be easily broke down if asked for taxes broken by commercial/industrial and residential taxes.
I have in the past asked the Economic Development departments of the communities I have worked for also. They typically have this information also. Unfortunately sometimes people (government officials) get nervous when you ask for this so you may have to make an OPRA request for it.
Secret Awards versus Public Ones
QUESTION: After the award winners have been chosen, how do you let them know? Which awards do you keep secret? How do you present the awards to the winners?
Allison Buchman, Indian River Chamber of Commerce:
Typically we did blind nominations/voting with no announcement of candidates, but we took a new approach this year- announced the top 3 nominees in each category, and kept the winners a secret until the awards dinner. This resulted in record attendance at the banquet because it piqued everyone’s curiosity
If it was by nomination, we send them a letter informing them and invite their family and friends to attend.
The Big Heart award our Mayor gives out are more difficult to get them to come. You have to come up with a reason for them to attend. So you have to lie!
Teri Wilson Edwards:
I call the winners… we do not do secret awards- we did in the past and then every year we’d catch heck from people who would say, “Well if I had known So-and-So would be getting an award, I would have come”
Jennifer Humphries, Former President/CEO at Coweta Chamber of Commerce:
We have done secret awards in the past and last year our Chair won Citizen of the Year and it was terrible keeping that secret from her. We won’t be doing secret awards again.
Colleen Evans, Former Membership Director at Lubbock Chamber of Commerce:
Secret awards will limit the ability to sell sponsorship tables etc.
Elaina Turpin, Former Program Director, Salem Area Chamber of Commerce:
We don’t do secret awards. As soon as the awards selection committee has made their choices, one person from the committee per award is selected to tell each winner within 24 hours. We do a big lead up to the awards with write ups in the papers about each recipient. We love the fact that the winners get so involved and usually bring along a lot of friends, co-workers and family. The local credit union won small business of the year and shut down the branch so that all their employees could attend the ceremony. Each presenter at the awards is personally selected for the business/person. Usually it’s one of the people that nominated them but it’s always someone that has a personal connection to that business or person.
Melissa Fetterhoff, President/CEO at Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce:
A few years back – we were presenting a secret award to one of our major sponsor’s sons. We thought it would be so great… the corporate sponsor is at every event. What a great surprise… until a week before the event they weren’t registered and come to find out they were going to be out of state… they had to rearrange a trip to their summer home… not good.
Nancie Gray, Manager of Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce:
Never a secret — always let everyone know, it helps fill the room
Marilyn Balcombe, President & CEO of Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce:
The only one that is secret is the “You Made a Difference” award given by the chair of the board to another board member of his/her choice. It is not a major award and the winner doesn’t give a speech, so if by any chance the recipient was not present, it would not interrupt the flow of the event.
Janet Steele, Albany Area Chamber of Commerce:
We announce all the nominees in advance and announce the winners at the banquet. We’ve never had a problem getting nominees and the community to attend.
All nominees get a free ticket to the banquet, student of the year nominees (high school seniors) get a free ticket for them and one parent
We charge a $20 nomination fee when you submit a name.
Creative Name for a Young Professional Award
QUESTION: We have run a Man/Woman of the Year recognition for many years. This year we are adding a “young professionals” award … probably will recognize multiple without specifying gender. I’m looking for a creative award name and any proven selection criteria that someone can share.
Glenn Morris, CEO & President at Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau:
Regional business journal does something like that. Our local paper used to do a “Rising Stars” award, but they got distracted and dropped it
John S. Cox, Former President/CEO at Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce:
Rising Star, Young Leader
Jill Cutler, Executive Director at Mercer County Chamber of Commerce:
We have a Pioneer award for someone forging new ground.
Sharon K Sherwood, Former Membership Director at Greeley Area Chamber of Commerce:
We do a Young Entreprenuer of the Year award. They must be between 21 and 39 years of age, have owned their own business for at least 3 years, must have made contributions through volunteerism and community activities, show professional development endeavors and last must be a member of the chamber. The selection is made by the Exec committee.
Shelle Summers, Senior Vice President at Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce:
Renee Radcliff Sinclair, Former Executive Director of Congressional & Public Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
Many communities do a “40 under 40” or “30 under 30” recognition. That way lots of people get in on the action and are motivated to continue building their leadership skills. I’ve seen some communities choose 1 or 2 standouts from that group from awards like “Most Entrepreneurial” “Community advocate” “Volunteer a Spirit” etc.
Shelby Lawley McNamara, Former President at Danville Area Chamber of Commerce:
Emerging Leader? I don’t like the distinction between man, woman and young person. I think it discredits the young person and makes the man/woman seem ancient!
Ammi Lung Tucker, Executive Director at Osceola/South Mississippi County Chamber of Commerce:
I like the Rising Star mentioned. Generation Next, Future Award… will add more if I come up with more
Susan Williams, Venango Area Chamber of Commerce:
Our YP group FLEX Future Leaders and Entrepreneurs Exchange holds an annual event recognizing young professionals nominated from the community. We name one as FLEX Young Professional of the Year. This is the fourth year of the event. We’ve used the nomination letters and the resumes of the nominees in the past, and have scored based on vision for our region’s future, leadership, entrepreneurialism, and relationship building as the criteria.
This year I would like to add brief videos of interviews with each nominee. For objectivity I have asked other chamber directors from outside our region to act as judges. Our event is March 28th and we have 6 nominees. I hope to have everything ready for review by March 7th. Would anyone be interested in serving as a judge? More about FLEX here.
QUESTION: The Danville California Chamber is starting a Scholarship Program for HS Seniors. Does anyone have one they do successfully? I would love to award 2 scholarships to students whose parents own (or work for) a member business.
Jay Handler, Owner of Membership 180:
Yvonne Woytovich, President/CEO at Kingman Area Chamber of Commerce, is in the process (a few steps ahead, perhaps) and might have some words of wisdom…
Laurel Smith, Lewis Clark Valley Chamber:
We do scholarships through our Agriculture Committee. Funded by revenue generated from the Lewis Clark Valley Chamber Ag Appreciation Banquet and the Idaho Women in Agriculture
Stacey DeFord, Elko Area Chamber of Commerce:
We are starting a Young Ambassador Program for High School aged students that will focus on mentoring, hands on leadership training, and eventually hope to have a scholarship available as well. They will help with Chamber Events, learn how to be successful in the work place and will also have their own Youth Event to plan. I did a program similar in Oregon and we are changing it up a bit to make it a Chamber Youth Program here.
We have given over $130,000 to our community college over the past 10 years and last year established an endowment. We do not award the scholarships ourselves, we give the money to the college foundation and they distribute according to our parameters.
Isaac Lee, Chief Operations Officer at Chamber of Commerce Executives of Ohio:
We have one at the Defiance Area Chamber of Commerce. The criteria is to be a chamber member, employee of member, and spouse or dependent are eligible. Application process with a final round of interviews. One $1,000 scholarship.
Simone Clark, Former Communications Manager at Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce:
We run a mentorship program with our local college that pairs students with mentors from our member community. The students become de facto members for the duration of the program and gain skills in public speaking, networking and general self confidence. At the end of the program two scholarships (one from us and one from the college) are awarded to the students with the greatest success who have met certain criteria as well. We are finishing our ninth year and have had over 100 students enrolled in the program.
Chris Hardy, President & CEO at Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce:
We do scholarships through our Foundation for seniors aspiring to major in the arts. Must attend a GA college or university.
Terry Abad Swierzowski, Vice President of the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce:
Raise money through our golf tourney. Award six $1000 scholarships to graduating high school seniors in our two counties. Applications and round of interviews by committee.
Official site for organization that promotes business. Includes events calendar, county demographics, ideas for tourism, and list of lodgings.
We provide up to four $1500 high school scholarships each year to seniors who parents or guardians are members of our chamber. Funded by voluntary contributions when they pay their dues. They have an application and essay to write. Our Education committee reviews and awards the scholarships. It’s been very successful.
David Bouchard, Former Executive Director/CEO at Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce:
We raise and distribute $12-15K each year, and over $100K since we started. I’ll email you everything I have on Wednesday!
Fresh Ideas for Awards
QUESTION: I am looking at revamping our awards that we give out at our banquet. It seems the plaque is dated, and I am looking for fresh ideas! How much do you typically spend on these awards?
Ali Crain, Former Executive director at Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Executives:
Check with Cowart Awards — that’s who we use for KCCE
Beth Bridges, The Networking Motivator:
I still like getting them 🙂 Or the engraved Lexan (?) shapes are nice, too, but harder to put on the wall. And desk space is at a premium.
Andrea Tokle Miller:
We’ve got a great small business that does quality work, and he’s on my board, so I wanting to stay local on these
We use a local business. Here’s a picture from last year. I see them hung in the businesses that have won in the past. They aren’t really unique but they are classic. I think that there is something to be said for consistency if your event has a long history. For awards part of the cache is being connected to past winners.
Stephan Wurzburg, Former Membership Sales & Marketing Manager at Keizer Chamber of Commerce:
We have done something a little untraditional and gave a “clock” as a plague. We use a local jeweler to make it and part of the cost is “traded” for sponsorship recognition. After that the actually amount we have to pay-out is about the same as a traditional plaque. Just some food for thought.
Amy Brand Cloud, Executive Director at Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Executives:
This year we’re giving Montana Silversmith horse sculptures. Cheaper than the trophies we’ve done in the past.
For things not chamber related, I’ve purchased local crafts (like a clock) and had small engraved plaque attached to it.
Jason E. Camis:
We try to give something tied to our speaker or theme. Last year our speaker was the founder of Tallgrass Brewing Co so we gave etched glass beer mugs. We heard great comments about them, as our members were tired of plaques. We completely stopped giving out certificates. Younger professionals won’t hang that stuff up. They’ve told us they’d rather just have the recognition and even a local gift certificate. So we try for stuff that’s unique and usable.
Carmen Inman, Frankfort Area Chamber of Commerce:
We use a local person as well. Now you guys have me thinking if changing things up. Thanks Chamber peeps- you’re the best.
Lara Frierson Bowman, Executive Director at Choctaw County Chamber of Commerce:
Have a local artist create a piece of art for the chamber only. We had a piece of pottery designed in the shape of our county. A huge success!!
Shannon McCarty, Former Executive Director at Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce:
We’ve done several things. Magic wands — our volunteers/board members are magical. We had a magician. Painted rocks–our members ROCK, we had a band. Last year we had a Round-up. The Chief of Police helped present awards as the cowboy sheriff — we took pics with him. Gave out badges. This year the red carpet! You get the idea. It’s all about having a conversation piece for their desk and bragging rights! Have fun with it.
Barry Gentry, Senior Vice President at Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce:
We’ve gone to a statute. Much like the Oscars. Members Choice Awards (MCAs)…they love it. We have our loveliest members present the awards with…and the envelope please kind of approach. Very classy. Very fun.
Lara Shapiro-Snair, Former Director of Marketing & Communication at Camarillo Chamber of Commerce:
We have them sponsored. The places that have done this for us always give us much more than we could afford because they want to put their best work out there for people to see.
Anissa Freeman Starnes, Swingbridge Consulting:
Ditto on Cowart Awards -they work with Chambers all over and have been longtime supporters of ACCE – they can work with any size budget and have great ideas as to what others are doing and Cheryl is just the best!
Todd Shimkus, President of Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce:
When I was in North Central MA, we used a “college style” chair manufactured by a local company. At the Adirondack Chamber in NY, we used an “Adirondack chair” and in Saratoga Springs, NY, we use a lawn jockey that is custom painted by a local store where these items are very popular. You don’t want to know how much they cost but thankfully we cover the cost as part of the event by having hundreds of people and dozens of sponsors.
Brittany Walsh, Vice President of Membership at St Petersburg Chamber of Commerce:
We give acrylics to our outgoing board members and an award to chamber member of the year.
Nominating and Voting
We are planning a business awards gala night which such awards as Business of the Year, Businessperson of the Year, New Business of the Year, Employee of the Year, and I am wondering what type of nomination and voting processes has anyone used in the past? I want to make this as public friendly as possible, and keep in mind our community isn’t very tech savvy!
Stephan Wurzburg Google Docs using Forms worked perfectly for us. Even from the non techy people. Promoted online but also in local papers/neighborhood newsletters.
Kalisha Bass We are currently underway planning our Business Awards banquet. We have a committee of members who work on planning the event. They also come up with a list of companies and individuals to nominate for such categories. We also encourage the public (via our newsletter and a press release to the media) to nominate people by doing this online. The online nomination form is new within the last 2 years. In the past, we used a word document to be completed. Those who are nominated (as well as anyone who wants to apply) would receive an email with the link to the online application (in the past, the application was attached/mailed). Separate from the committee, we have an independent panel of judges who score the applications. Staff calculates the score and the top 3 are considered “Finalists”. The top score is the winner but they are not announced until the event.
Noelle Sierra Smithhart We have used survey monkey for nominations. One tricky thing is deciding if it is just a popularity vote (most motes wins) or if nominations go to a committee who helps make the final decision.http://sluchamber.org/pages/AnnualBusinessAwards/
Chelsea N Norm Harrison We have the previous winner head the committee which is comprised of all previous winners. Last years winner will also present at the current year.
Shelby Lawley McNamara Our selection committee is the Past Chair and members of the local media (5 different media entities sponsor awards). We ask anyone (members or community) to submit a brief overview of the nominee and why they should be chosen. It usually works very well – we have had a couple of times when politics reared its ugly head!
Edward M. Rodriguez whatever process you use, publicize the names of the finalists. This guarantees more ticket sales at the event….. instead of announcing there will be a Business of the Year Award… do a news release announcing the top 6 or 10 finalists. Watch the tables sell like crazy!!!!
Nancie Gray I love the idea of using a tool like Survey Monkey for the nominations. You just helped me with a community service award that we have given for years….
Teri Wilson Edwards I agree with Edward– we used to do a ‘secret’ winner and sometimes it was hard getting that person to attend the event and then we got backlash (not bad) from people who said had they known so-and-so was going to be given an award, they would have come….
Jill Cutler We offer to community to nominate as well as our board. Businesses and some others have to be Chamber members, but some like volunteer of the year do not. We have a board committee that goes through these and makes recommendations to the board-trying to vet the nominees if necessary. Then the board votes. The board can choose not to take the recommendations.
Carmen Inman We send out nomination forms to our members and to our email list (community and businesses) and let them nominate. We have the Rising Star Award for an up and coming business or individual and Business of the Year Award that nomination driven. Our Ambassador of the Year Award is based on points accrued throughout the year and our President’s Award is selected by our incoming President. If you would like to see the nomination forms, you can check out our newsletter at http://www.frankfortky.info.
Tessa Krofchek Thank you to everyone for all the great advice. and ThanksCarmen Inman. you guys have such great ideas in the newsletter. I have a lot tons of questions, but I am most curious about how you guys got the mobile app built?
Annual Meeting Awards
What awards do you give at your Annual Meeting & Banquet? Would love some news ideas and descriptions of qualifications. Also, does staff, board or members nominate/vote?
Marilyn Balcombe Ours is very simple – Small Business of the Year and Young Professional of the Year. These are formal nominations submitted to the Chamber. We have a small group of Board members review and score the nominees. We also have the “You Made a Difference” award that goes to one outstanding board member. This award is the sole discretion of the Board Chair.
Jennifer Humphries We currently hand out Citizen of the Year (anyone from our community), Chamber Volunteer of the Year, Business of the Year (typically a Chamber member) and Community Volunteer of the year (anyone from the community). We used to hand out best firefighter, cop and city employee too. It got to be way too much. Everyone/anyone can nominate. Our board votes.
Karen Hutchinson-Talaski Man and Woman of the Year, Business of the Year, Chamber Volunteer of the Year. We also allow the school district, the police department and anyone else who wants to give an award to an outstanding citizen — like churches, Boy/Girl Scouts, etc.
Elaina Turpin We have Chamber Award of Excellence for both small and large business, Business Beautification and Distinguished Service Award. Here’s the nomination form with descriptions.http://staytonsublimitychamber.org/…/13…
Ron Orris We do a Director’s Award, Exemplary Business Award and Community Spirit Award.
Glenn Morris We do two events … one for internal awards (Ambassador of the Year, New Ambassador of the Year, Legislator of the Year, Business Advocate of the Year, and 5-year anniversary recognition), and one for external awards (Large, Medium, and Small Business of the Year, Ag Business of the Year, Man and Woman of the Year).
Annick De Glymes Pruett we have a woman of Distinction, Yp
Frankie Bertrand Since 1947, Citizen Of The Year, Humanitarian Of The Year, Chamber Person of The Year, and Woman of Excellence.
Kalisha Bass We have Chairperson of the Year, Ambassador of the Year and Economic Development Partner of the Year (we are a chamber and Economic Development organization).
Staff nominates these. we also have a Business Awards event. There are 7 categories and others nominate or a business/person can apply. We have independent judges (not staff (who are members/past winners) who go through the applications to score them. Top 3 scores are named the finalists. The winner is announced at the dinner.
• Business of the Year | Less Than 25 Employees
• Business of the Year | More Than 25 Employees
• Rising Star Award (in business five years or less)
• Professional of the Year
• Community Leader Award
• Young Professional of the Year Award (new for 2014)