Every year, I am blown away by the unique ways companies champion giving back initiatives. While there are an incredible number of awards companies can apply for, one of the most rewarding award applications is your company's submission for the Austin Gives awards. Over the years, I have witnessed that the best companies with solid cultures also have philanthropic efforts that involve employees serving within their community. Austin Gives allows companies to showcase this important work through the award program and luncheon.
With hundreds of other noteworthy campaigns and brands vying for the judges' attention, the big question is, how do you cut through the clutter, so they sit up and take notice of your entry?
I have been a PR advisor, chair of the Austin Gives executive council and overall supporter of Austin Gives since 2015. This year I’m proud to be the head of the nominations committee. What I love about the companies who are winners of these particular awards is that many are new Austin brands being showcased–possibly the first time they had ever been on a big stage and in the press. They won because giving is part of the company DNA and leadership has mapped company values into compelling philanthropy efforts beyond noteworthy.
As a communications consultancy owner of nearly 15 years, I have a unique vantage point because, in my profession, we help brands tell stories that will help them land articles, speaking engagements, and awards. I’ve also been a judge for Austin Gives and other organizations and it’s always painful to read a submission that has so much potential but falls flat next to others because the writer didn’t bring it to life for the judges to fall in love with.
Some companies have massive resources to tackle the submission process; others are just beginning to put the resources in place. Everyone can benefit from a good reminder and a refreshed sense of tackling the task. Below, enjoy four insights on what it takes to make an awards submission stand out from the crowd:
Not all awards opportunities are the same. So do your homework and ensure you have the right writers and reviewers in place early, so the process begins months before the submission is due.
This year Austin Gives has three categories and it’s essential for you to read through the questions and consider if you have what it takes to support your case for submission. Then, bring the right people into a brainstorming session to get the juices flowing and list why you feel strongly about each submission category. This list will be your blueprint!
Look at the previous winners and learn what made them stand out based on the previous years' press release or award ceremony commentary.
Too often, an award submission falls flat because the assigned writer took a rigid approach and didn’t focus on drawing the reader in. As a result, a quickly drafted submission feels like an afterthought vs. an inspirational story. So roll up your sleeves and take your time!
Developing an awards submission is more than just listing the campaign objectives and successes; it requires thoughtful consideration. Awards judges typically have hundreds of entries to go through in a day, so we need to keep them intrigued with an inspiring story. So be the lightning bolt that makes them sit up in their seats!
With each award, focus on inspiring the judges by telling a compelling story they can follow. Map out your entry with the following framework:
#1 Your Why – why your company puts time and energy into giving back. What drives you and how you put your values into action.
#2 The reasoning behind the problem or opportunity your company tackled and why it is so meaningful to you and your employees
#3 How you involve your employees in developing a philanthropic campaign and how you evaluate it each year internally as well as with your partners.
#4 The solutions, the results you achieved, and the lasting and sometimes unexpected impact this work has had internally and with the nonprofit partners.
Just like a great press interview, a solid award submission would make any journalist want to write about the company or awardee because it demonstrates the impact made by using data, relevant metrics and even quotes from your employees who loved the work as the nonprofit that benefitted. Remember, companies can draft checks for nonprofits and that’s lovely. Still, the storylines that win show a company with values that map to giving back to our community and a company culture that embraces this from top to bottom.
Test your supporting facts by having someone read your submission that knows nothing about your program or efforts. See if they are drawn in and take the time to ask what would make this stronger? This is the time to get outside of your comfort zone and test it so you can go back in and add the color and facts that might make it even stronger.
Imagine a panel of judges reading through hundreds of submissions and not seeing a single visual to support these storylines? What an incredible missed opportunity, right?
This is why each year, we remind companies to make sure photos and videos are captured during these incredible philanthropic events, from working in soup kitchens to building homes for homeless families to establishing after-school programs and beyond.
You can tell judges that your employees loved the experience, that your partner was blown away by the turnout and that you made 2,000 meals – but visuals bring that to life in ways words never can.
Give judges a front-row seat to your campaign with images, videos or even statistics to add credibility and bring your story to life. Research shows that people retain 80% of what they see and only 20% of what they read. It also acts as a visual summary to help them remember your campaign. Don’t overdo it; just add the visuals that will take your story over the finish line.
Establishing an annual award campaign strategy means thinking ahead and making a target list of awards you want to pursue to capture all of the assets you need to draft the submissions. It takes planning. However, being a company that cares deeply about the community and gives back is something to be celebrated internally and externally. So get your submissions in and remember all the effort will be worth it when you’re up on stage accepting an award that all of your employees, customers and partners will be delighted to witness.
Related Categories: Austin Gives