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Making advocates through honors
On the Tony Awards, institutional loyalty, and why it makes sense to grant awards from an institution's first day
Some people know and care a great deal about the Tony Awards. Others are only familiar with Broadway in a more passing sense. But there's one particular lesson that anyone can take away from The American Theatre Wing (and its counterparts in Hollywood, like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
■ The lesson is that every organization that wants to survive in the long term needs to create and celebrate a semi-exclusive annual award, make a big show out of presenting it, and give it to the people most likely to make a big deal about the award themselves.
■ Awards cement loyalty. The one vital thing a good awardee will do is try everything in their power to build up the institution that gave them the award. This is a basic matter of alignment of interests: What's good for the awarding organization thus becomes personally good for the awardee.
■ Most organizations aren't going to have a telecast on CBS to grant their annual honors. That's fine. But the institution benefits when it does everything within its reach to hype the prestige of the award, to the largest audience it can obtain. As with the Doomsday Machine in "Dr. Strangelove", the whole point is lost if you keep it a secret. You have to tell the world.
■ None of this needs to be a crass or cynical exercise, either. The people most deserving of an award are already the people most likely (in most groups) to be vocal and enthusiastic advocates for the organization, anyway. But it certainly doesn't hurt institutional survival to make those advocates materially invested in the perpetuation of the organization: If you're named to the Order of St. Gregory the Great, you're probably not about to turn around and advocate for the deposition of the Pope.
■ But too many groups invest too little energy in granting (and subsequently celebrating) awards. If you want your institution to survive, then conveying an annual personal award should be a part of the plan from Day One of your charter. That goes for your trade group, your church, your alumni foundation, and your Little League alike. If you're making honorees, you're making advocates.