Planning an Awards Ceremony? Start here. (Includes Free Checklist)

ADS Awards Show ChecklistThis one is for the non-profits – especially those who volunteer for them (like I do). If you’ve ever been asked to get involved with planning and executing an awards show for a non-profit, this video was tailor-made for you. I now have two successful non-profit award shows under my belt that I’ve gleaned experience from – one was at least six years ago for a non-profit in South Carolina (Mentor of the Year Awards for the United Way Young Professionals of Greenville County) and the other just recently – NOMAtlanta NSPIRE Awards here in Atlanta, Georgia. You forget a lot over six years and so this video is the one I wish I could’ve seen at the beginning of this fresh, juried awards process AND this checklist I created for you is the checklist I wish I had at the beginning of this process as well. Enjoy!!


Just recently we were tasked with helping one of our favorite non-profits to plan their first ever juried awards show. Though we roughly had a year to do it, doing it on a volunteer basis and with a team that’s also all volunteers meant you were dealing with
everyone’s scraps of time to get this done. Maybe you’re finding yourself in a similar position with your own org.


The key in all of this? It really is details. So planning, planning, planning can make all the difference between a thrown together, last minute event and a well done foundational event that you can build on in the future. It not only matters to your honorees and members of your organization, but it also matters to your sponsors, the families and friends of the honorees and – most importantly – your team. An awards show can be a great opportunity to showcase your organization, but we’ve realized there
just aren’t a lot of great tools out there to help you plan one. So here’s the
checklist we wish we had to start with last year this time. We hope it helps!



First come up with your target dates for the event. You’ll need a couple because you never know what venues may have available by the time you start looking. So have a range of dates in mind that will work, say, within a 2-month time span to give you and your dream venue the most options possible.


Consider the design: Start considering venues that would be most appropriate for the theme and feel for your event. Just because it’s an award ceremony doesn’t mean it has to feel “stuffy and formal.” You could go for urban chic, or rustic elegance.

Consider your event needs: Does the venue have A/V included in their package or is it extra? Will a stage be included? Will you need one for the number of attendees coming? What about catering? Can you bring your own caterer or do you have to use theirs? How about alcohol?


Consider the size of the audience you’ll be inviting. Are we talking about 100 attendees or is this more like 300- 500? Is this a small and intimate event with 50-70 attendees? Is it massive and going to require a conference-size space with 800-1000 people?


Research your comparable events in your industry across the US. Who else has done this How to put on an awards showalready? Have a look at the way they presented the awards graphically, on social media, on their website, etc. Also, hunt down their award submission guidelines. You’ll need this to begin to figure out what your own guidelines will be.


Will your event have a keynote speaker? If so, now’s the time to start brainstorming who. Think of someone that has some name recognition in your community and can therefore hopefully also be a draw for your event, spurring ticket sales for you and your team. A keynote isn’t necessary, but it’s worth a thought for a great fit. Also, lock in your MC’s.

1 year to 6 months out


Will you invite a band or would you be fine with a DJ of sorts for background music? Many venues can play off of an iTunes playlist from your phone or iPad, so that’s worth a thought if you’re trying to save on your budget. Also, be sure to communicate what your band’s attire should be so they flow with your event – is it casual, business casual, should they be black and chic, cocktail or even formal? Finally, be sure you communicate with the caterer about what food / refreshments can / should be available to the band during breaks and communicate back to the band where they can find their refreshments.

Band or awards show


Target Revenue:

  • Ticket sales
  • Juried fees (fees you collect for people submitting awards)
  • Sponsorships


  • Venue
  • Food
  • Pizza party for jurors + juror gifts
  • Decor
  • A/V
  • Entertainment
  • Photographer
  • Awards (trophies, certificate frames)
  • Printing
  • Social media ads
  • Banners for sponsors

Be aware of the scenarios needed to break even on your event: what combination of ticket sales and sponsorships would cover your expenses?


Determine the levels of sponsorship you want to offer sponsors. Again, look at comparable events in the area to see if you can find their sponsorship packets. If it’s hard to find one for an awards event, expand your search to different event genres. Have your sponsorship packet designed so it’s professional, shareable and accessible to your whole team. Check out our sponsorship packet here.


Work with your team to determine who has the best relationships with what companies /
organizations / individuals who can contribute at the sponsorship levels you have in mind. Put your list in a Google Docs spreadsheet and let your whole team access it.

What to keep track of: List the company name, the person on your team who has the relationship with them, the “ask” amount, add a status column so you can keep track of how that ask is progressing, add a “committed” column to keep track of dollars committed and a “money received” column to indicate dollar amounts received to date. Every meeting, refer to this list. Sponsorships will make or break your event!


Consider the audience size you intend to be there. Consider the ticket price your audience is willing to bear (do your research on comparable events in the area).  Consider the expenses you will need to cover and what percentage of that needs to be covered by ticket prices (if not sponsorships).

6 months to 3 months out


Select a photographer who is going to capture your event with quality and within budget. Ensure they will be able to deliver photos after the event in a timely manner. Ensure you will have rights to the digital photos for use as you please and that they won’t be plagued with proof watermarks or photographer signatures, etc. Give them a list of photos to capture after the event (i.e. photos of the board, photos of all honorees, etc.)

DECORTable with table runner, small flower vases, white flowers

Consider the desired look and feel for your event along with your budget for this space. Sometimes your caterer or venue may be able to offer decor help or suggestions. OK your decor ahead of time to ensure it will flow with your event. Make sure your decor is not
intrusive for your guests (i.e. doesn’t block their view of the stage area, etc.).


Once you have your Award Submission Guidelines document together, then set the date that you will announce your “Call for Entries.” This needs to happen at least 3 months before your event, ideally. Also set the deadline that that award submissions are due. Ideally, set it for 1 month before the event. Remember, you need to give your jury time to deliberate (ideally 3 weeks before the event) so you can get their responses back in time to get to the award shop (2 weeks out).

Create a Landing Page with all of the event information included on it: the date, time, location, a link to the submission guidelines, a button for submitting documents, a link to
buy tickets, an area for sponsors as well as your sponsorship packet. Design a “Call for Entries” graphic – a square version for Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook and one appropriately sized for Twitter posts (1024×512 pixels). Also create one for your Facebook Cover Photo and your eBlast (i.e. email) header image for an email announcement. View our sample landing page here.


Set your jury requirements. Do they need to be out of state? Are they allowed to be members of your organization? Make sure your jury can commit to the date that you’ll need for them to deliberate your entries.


Just as you created sponsorship targets, also create a spreadsheet for your entry targets. Who can submit? Are they going to be willing to pay the associated submission fees? Will they submit on time? Assign people to follow up with entry targets to ensure you have
enough entries to warrant having an awards ceremony in the first place.


You’ll want to get your comms plan (i.e. communications plan) together asap.

Communication Vehicles:

  • eBlasts (i.e. emails)
  • Social media
  • In-person communications (handouts, flyers, announcements at other events)
  • Publications / PR
  • Digital ads

Audiences: Consider all the audiences that will need communication and when:

  • Jury
  • Team
  • Keynote speaker
  • Potential award submitters
  • Potential attendees
  • Potential sponsors
  • Vendors (caterer, venue, photographers, print house, etc.)

Tix Comms: Set your Early Bird Ticket date and plan communications around that (1
month away, 2 weeks left, 1 week away, last day for Early Bird Tix). Then create communications for your regular ticket sales (1 mo. out, 2 weeks, 1 week, last day). Everything is designed to create urgency all the way leading up to your event.

Flyers: Have small flyers printed up for your team for use in one-on-one meetings.


Think through how you’ll communicate it, when it will start, when it will end, what qualifies a winner and what they will receive. Name your contest. Get a sponsor
for it to supply a cash reward. Decide on what updates you’ll give for the contest to the
participants and how. We published a scoreboard twice over the weekend before the event to give participants some knowledge on their standings in the contest as well as get some competitiveness going. Use it to drive followership: Invite new likers of content for the contest to like your page on Facebook / follow them on Instagram.


Obtain a professional headshot of your speaker. Ensure they agree on the content of their announcement on social media and over email, etc. Tag the appropriate accounts
associated with your speaker on each platform. Ensure they are comfortable with their topic and they know how much time they have to speak. Give them a gift and premium
seating if possible. Follow up with them afterwards to make sure they have access to event photos, etc.


  • Incentivize your team to sell tickets (e.g. those who sell 5 tickets or more get to attend the event for free).
  • Give special discount codes via EventBrite, for example, for friends of the board.
  • Tie in seats to the event with event submissions, etc.
  • Give and keep track of complementary tickets where appropriate. Over-communicate with them to ensure they attend and your space is not empty.


Ensure your award submitters, honorees and sponsors are all properly communicated with. Double-check that names of individuals and companies are spelled properly everywhere – in all communications, on trophies, certificates, etc. Ensure they will be at the event (very important!!). Make sure they know what they get with their submission / sponsorship (i.e. do they receive complementary tickets with their submission?). Create your seating list.

Month-of Event


Align your powerpoint with your program and script. Ensure names are spelled properly
and images are matched up with the right awards, etc. Test your powerpoint for readability and contrast in the venue space at the time of day that the event will run.. Test the laptop/ device your PPT will run off of at the venue. Ensure any video plays properly.


As sexist as it may seem to some, it’s still nice to have a “Vanna White” so to speak at your event. They can ensure that honorees receive the correct award and they are arguably a very critical part in your event flow for the evening. Pick someone lovely and young, ideally who has ties to your organization. Tie them into the script so people know who they are, their credentials and their relation to your organization. Let it be a nice
moment of visibility for them.

Vanna White for an awards ceremony


If you want your event to flow smoothly, you need a script. Make sure your MC’s are good readers! Make sure your script print is big enough to be read on stage easily. Ensure your script flows with the event and program. Put time markers in your script and test it to ensure that a natural flow works. Consider the other elements of your event that can effect the timing of your script: food, entertainment, etc. Practice your script before offering it to your team for review. Print 3-copies for the day-of.


Make sure you have volunteers for every area of the event that extra hands will be needed:

  • Registration (at least 2 people, depending on audience size)
  • People to place programs in seats as well as place and check table tent cards – according to your seating chart
  • Assign someone to be the point of contact for your band / entertainment for the evening. Ensure you are prepared to pay them in the way you agreed to ahead of time.
  • Set-up and break-down as needed
  • Award arrangements – ensuring everything is in order of announcement


  • Consider your budget. You can’t have an elaborate, 8-page printed brochure on a shoestring budget for 100 people. But maybe you can have a simple, boiled down, two-sided full color program trimmed to bleed.
  • Always print about 20% extra.
  • Double-check names and logos that need to be on the program.
  • Do include timeframes so people know when to expect certain elements of your program.


  • Double-check with all sponsors for names of attendees (according to the number of tickets they get with their sponsorship).
  • Double-check with all award submitters that you’ve received the names of people who will be attending as a part of their complementary tickets.
  • Ensure you know what community dignitaries (politicians, community leaders, major organizational leaders, etc.) will be there and make sure their names are on your list.



  • Decide on a date and time to run through your script and event flow prior to the event (even if it has to be over conference call).
  • Run-through the script, ideally at the venue with your presentation and all MC’s.


  • Certificates: have signed and frame
  • Table tent cards with logos for sponsors, sponsored tables and other VIP guests
  • Award Envelopes (for dramatic effect)
  • Copies of Script (3)
  • Copies of Attendee Lists (3) – bring
  • Bring 3 permanent markers for check-off at door
  • Make sure you have someone else prepared to print back-ups of these as needed the day-of.


Ensure everyone knows when they are to arrive – from your vendors to your volunteer team to the entertainment, keynote and honorees.


  • Send post-event communications via email and social media: post-event survey, photos, any press the event obtained, etc.
  • Create a blog post and social media posts announcing your winners. Communicate that out to attendees and press.
  • Encourage award submitters to submit to a higher national event if applicable.
  • Thank your sponsors and keynote again personally. Send them links to post communications items listed above.