Going Beyond the Grade With Education Awards

5 ways to help local colleges & universities look to more than academics in celebrating their people.

With nearly 4,000 higher-education institutions in the United States, you can hardly toss a hat (or should I say cap?) without hitting one. Take your business up a notch by building relationships with the schools in your area and helping them think beyond academics for recognition.

“We are seeing increasing interest by major and local colleges and universities that want to recognize their employees, alumni, and donors,” said Todd Phillips, vice president of strategic accounts for Crystal D, a promotional products supplier in St. Paul, Minnesota. “They understand that these awards are an investment in the future of their school and represent both gratitude and pride.”

Working with higher education can equate to higher dollar opportunities for trophy retailers because these institutions tend to have larger budgets to work with, Phillips adds, and they also have access to multiple contacts with orders originating from various departments. In addition, Phillips points out that retailers benefit from the prestige effect. Having examples of awards you’ve done for big-name schools helps attract sales from others.

Grab a pen and get ready to take some notes, as I’ll share five ways (in no particular order) that colleges, universities, community colleges, and trade schools are using awards to highlight more of their people.

Thanking donors

The New York Times has reported that financial gifts to U.S. universities reached nearly $60 billion in recent years. Meanwhile, it’s been widely reported that contributions to U.S. higher-education institutions have been growing by double digits. So, who’s doing all that giving? Donors to education foundations include alumni, private organizations, and other individuals who care about education and the positive impact it has in and beyond the community.


donor award

School foundations depend on this financial support and use it to help close gaps on any number of needs — from aiding student tuition and financial aid to off-setting operational costs, to supporting research programs and funding capital projects.

Investing in ways to recognize and thank these donors, such as presenting a beautiful crystal gift showcasing a scenic view of the school and an inscription to honor the donor, reinforces the foundation’s appreciation and serves as a reminder of the life-changing effect of generosity.

  • Who to work with: Foundation president or office of the school president

Commemorating events

event awardGroundbreakings. Grand openings. Anniversaries. Expansions. Closures. These are important chapters in a school’s story. Taking the time to commemorate and recognize the historical significance of major events is meaningful to anyone who has been connected as a student, parent, or faculty member. Even volunteers and members of the greater community take an interest in local schools and what goes on in and around them over time.

Keep up on your community’s educational institutions and the things that are poignant and noteworthy. Then try to join leaders in the planning process and help them think about tangible ways to mark the occasions. Commemorative items made of crystal and customized with deep-etched images and wording, or even 3D depictions of buildings floating inside, can be distributed as gifts or made available for people to purchase as a fundraiser. Even when things change and evolve within schools, these items serve as permanent reminders of the countless lives enhanced by education.

  • Who to work with: The office of the school president

Recognizing alumni

alumni awardA student’s relationship with their place of learning doesn’t end with the commencement ceremony. Many go on to positively represent their schools — and those who shaped them along the way — as they make their own remarkable imprints on the world. Through their professions, athletic achievements, and service to their communities, alumni can and should be honored.

Institutions that recognize their former students do so with pride, and being recognized by an alma mater well after graduation is incredibly meaningful. Whether someone has become a top leader in their field, earned national or international recognition for their athletic prowess, helped discover a scientific breakthrough, or selflessly dedicated themselves to helping others, recognizing these distinguished alumni for their post-grad contributions is good for everyone – the institution and its staff, along with past, present, and future students.

Distinguished alumni awards can display the school’s logo, the type of honor, and the alum’s name, and these beautiful crystal pieces can be prominently displayed in the recipients’ homes or places of work. Schools can also get duplicates of these awards to display in special places on their campuses, like a hall or wall of fame.

  • Who to work with: Alumni relations

Showcasing athletics

athletic awardI’m willing to bet you already work with schools celebrating their sports championships. But have you played the long game and helped them think beyond the headlines? Connect with school athletic departments to identify and recognize additional notable accomplishments, like the graduation of a highly decorated athlete, the retirement of a legacy-level coach, and a win record for the record books.

The possibilities are endless, yet nothing stands out quite like a flawless crystal award featuring a rich-color digital image accented by deep-etch lettering and gold color fill. It’s a gleaming symbol of an extraordinary accomplishment by an extraordinary individual — and it will hit a home run in their hearts.

  • Who to work with: Athletic department

Appreciating staff

Day in and day out, employees serve as the heartbeat of education. Instructors, faculty, and support staff pour their time, expertise, and energy into their careers helping to prepare students for tomorrow.

While it’s common to give kudos for years of service, schools also want to honor their people for more of their contributions. For some, it’s excellence in teaching and distinguished service, while others make it a point to acknowledge leadership qualities and involvement in special projects. In all of these examples, educators are being recognized for their diligent efforts and the positive impact they have on countless lives.

Showing schools the range of crystal award options available — even a shiny, iconic apple — can help them study up on their employees and take time to celebrate them in the most special ways.

  • Who to work with: Administration or human resources
Natalie Albers headshot

Natalie Albers

Crystal D

Natalie Albers is a Twin Cities-based writer and editor with more than two decades of communications experience for small businesses as well as Fortune 100 corporations. Her storytelling style has been honed by natural curiosity and journalism training — as well as her own limited attention span. Albers is passionate about recognition and helping organizations connect with their people in meaningful ways.

View all articles by Natalie Albers   Visit Website

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