Your success in the spotlight


By John Low, Chief Executive, CAF

The organisations who win awards are the ones you want to tell people about. If you don’t want to retell the story, they are unlikely to win.

In more than 10 years of judging charity awards, I have seen many different ways of getting to the final awards winner.

Some panels break up into small groups, some have judges championing their favourite entrant and others have a secret vote. Some groups are made up of senior people at the top of their organisations, others with people from right across the spectrum.

So what are those judges looking for when they open the entries?

Firstly the entry forms are there for a reason. They might feel bureaucratic or annoying but they have often been fine tuned over the years to elicit exactly what the judges are looking for.

It’s a bit like a job application – do you meet the requirements of the role? But the process of applying can help clarify your thinking and help if you later want to make a pitch for funding or talk to potential donors.

There are many questions to answer: Is the project sustainable? Will it be there in 10 years? What sort of difference or impact has it made, and to how many people? Has it achieved a systemic change in the way things are done?

Judges want to see something that is innovative and inspires people, but they also want to see something which is well managed, well planned and well executed.

Often people talk about an inspiring and visionary leader, but judges will look at whether people across an organisation share that vision.

Once an application has met the criteria, has passed the threshold, it’s important that it catches the eye. The thing that won’t catch people’s eyes are masses of words; if you have to cross-reference to section 25ii you won’t do that. You have to be able to get your story across succinctly, with passion and clearly evidenced.

Sometimes it’s sophisticated projects which win through, but often the important thing is the simplicity of an idea. I remember one project to build sand dams to catch water in an arid part of the world – simple technology but an idea that would really make a practical difference to people.

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Of course, those on judging panels are often senior people who have produced innovative work themselves and led outstanding organisations. If a judge likes something and says “I wish I came up with that” you’re doing well, and have brought your work to life.

I sometimes think large organisations find it more difficult in the judging room. People tend to expect large, well resourced organisations to be able to make a big impact, and are more impressed by small, dynamic projects.

But large charities are singled out for praise – at CAF we have been fortunate enough to win a few awards in our time. There is no reason why large charities should not be given accolades for projects if they are innovative, different and make a big impact.

The one thing never to forget is the power of emotional appeal. Once a project has got through to a shortlist, people cannot help but support the things they like, that they connect with, that have some humanity.

In the charitable sector people want to change the world and they want to see winning organisations which inspire themselves and others to do that.

CAF is proud sponsor of the Charity Awards 2017. To apply visit the Charity Awards website - entries close at midnight on Friday 3 March 2017.