Becky Hewitt and Clare Laxton: What we learnt from judging the 2019 Third Sector Awards

Two of the judges from this year's awards share their thoughts on the competitive process and how charities can prepare the best application

Becky Hewitt and Clare Laxton
Becky Hewitt and Clare Laxton

When we were asked to be part of the Third Sector Awards judging panel this year, we were a bit unsure what to expect, but one thing we did know is that we would have our work cut out deciding between all the incredible applications.

What I don’t think either of us were prepared for is how much we would learn. So what were the key attributes that made one charity stand out from all the rest? And how can future applicants give themselves the best chance of making it onto the final shortlist?

Nail the application

It was evident from the beginning that many charities spent lots of time on their applications, but they often still didn’t really tell us what we needed to know. Here are five top tips for charities to bear in mind when putting together an application:

  • Include why your campaign or activity mattered, and what it achieved. Really focus on the impact you had and the difference you made. Everything else should flow from there.
  • Ensure the voices and stories of the people you support are at the heart of your pitch – and include quotes and films to help bring that journey to life.
  • Brevity is key. Stick to the word count and don’t over-complicate your pitch (remember some judges are reading about 100 applications). Additionally, make sure everything you want to say is in the application instead of relying on attaching lots of documents. They probably won’t get read.
  • Talk openly about any challenges you’ve overcome, and be honest and clear about your learnings – so few charities did this, yet judges were keen to recognise achievement in challenging circumstances.
  • Be ready to talk about the difference that winning the award would make to your charity.

Pitch yourself well

Should your application progress to the pitching stage and get in front of the judges, there are a few things that might help your story shine.

Stick to a few key messages from your application: show us the difference you made and don’t feel like you have to overcomplicate things.

Make sure you’re going for the right award: we saw lots of pitches for Communications or Fundraising Team of the Year that were really talking about a specific campaign, rather than the team that worked on it.

Most importantly, make sure the voices and experiences of your beneficiaries are at the heart of your presentations and don’t be afraid to bring people you’ve supported to your pitch.

And what about us judges? What did we learn?

The diversity of perspectives on the judging panel was hugely valued: we really saw different strengths and weaknesses in the bids that were submitted. So come ready to argue your point of view, and to change your opinion! We had some great debates, with all of us changing our perspectives during different points of the day.

Be prepared to share your feedback with people who pitch on the day: some of those most powerful moments in the day were when judges gave really clear, courageous and honest feedback, and that was when the conversations got really interesting. 

Be prepared for some tough choices. There is a lot of great work, and it’s hard that not everyone can be shortlisted.

It was such a privilege to be part of the judging panel this year, to see the difference we’re all making every day and the impact we have. We loved seeing the ideas, passion and innovation too.

And if you’re reading this having not made the shortlist on this occasion, then don’t let that stop you applying next year. Our tips might help.

Good luck to all of this year’s finalists.

Becky Hewitt is the chief executive of Changing Faces; Clare Laxton is the director of communications and influencing at Pause

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