Celebrating success: should we?

Celebration and recognition are widely viewed as important parts of promoting organisations, giving them credibility and disseminating good practice. One graphic of the "social entrepreneurship ecosystem" (don’t ask) I’ve seen parcels it up into four areas: thought leadership, skill sharing, financing and recognition. The latter including Edge Upstarts, Enterprising Solutions, Ernst and Young (Social) Entrepreneur of the Year, as well as wider third sector awards (Third Sector magazine, Guardian awards etc.).

This article by John Burton of the World Land Trust (pointed out by the Charity blog), begs to differ:

"I abhor the very concept of reducing charity work to this level.
Hopefully a few of us do it because we believe in the cause, and not
simply to get an award at some Hollywood-style ceremony. But worse is
to come, because to attend these awards’ ceremonies, a place at the
table is £141.35 a head (for charity workers), or £1175 + VAT for a
table of 10.

Is this really what supporters of a charity
expect their money to be spent on? Is this really how they expect staff
and Trustees to be spending their time?

And of course only a few
charities can afford the time and money to actually enter into a
competition to become ‘Charity of the Year’ or be nominated the
‘Trustee Board of the Year’. And not everyone has the ego that needs to
be the ‘Finance Director of the Year’. Clearly awards like these are
going to be influenced by money and size — particularly when there is
an award for the ‘Best Charity to Work for’ and it’s decided by
internet voting.

The problem is that some members of the
public will assume that these awards have real meaning, and that will
mean that a charity which has spent an undisclosed amount of time and
effort winning an award, is presumed better than one that has not done
so. If the awards were chosen by an independent group of assessors,
reviewing all charities against published criteria, there might be some
value, but as they stand I believe them to do more harm than good.

there does not appear to be an award for the charity that has ‘done
most to achieve its charitable objectives, for the least amount of

These gripes are, specifically, about the Charity Times UK Charity Awards and I think that’s important to say because, frankly, lots of the awards (certainly most of those I mention above) are chosen by an independent group of assessors, don’t charge massive amounts to come to the winning ceremony (if at all), do praise effectiveness in outcomes and so on. Many of these awards have also drawn attention to smaller, innovative organisations – indeed, awards are often one of the few areas where such organisations CAN compete with the big ‘corporates’ of the third sector.

I think John also underestimates how much an award can do for an organisation’s profile, morale and credibility. External recognition is hugely important for this, something I’ve seen as a judge (on CAF’s CCI awards), and SSE has seen as an organisation (Highly Commended in Charity Awards 2004), but also which we have found in our work: recognition and celebration are key for raising social entrepreneurs’ confidence, their credibility as a leader of an effective organisation, and an understanding of their own value (and the value of their work). When this is recognised at our Fellowship events by politicians and stakeholders, by the praise of funders or investors, or by their own peers, the effects are substantial.

A small example: Debbie Ariyo, the SSE Fellow who founded and runs AFRUCA, recently got a substantial grant from the Big Lottery Fund confirmed, which will enable the organisation to grow and deliver its important campaigning, research, and policy work on child trafficking and abuse. On e-mailing this to the SSE Fellowship, quite a few have since written in congratulating Debbie, saying how important her work is, asking for links to her website, and generally giving a big thumbs-up. It’s not the same as the money, but it still matters a great deal.

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