How to get more applicants for your online award, competition, grant, or call for entry

Company News|John Haverkamp|February 15, 2016

One of the most frustrating difficulties anyone will encounter running an awards program is not having enough applicants. It can be difficult to figure out how to maximize the number of applicants you will receive. Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to maximize your application count.

Personalize the Message

One of the biggest pitfalls that an event can encounter is getting lost in the crowd. When you are trying to get the best applicants you have to keep in mind that you are marketing to people that are inundated with information every day. If you are planning an email campaign, you are only going to be one of a huge number of emails that get into someone’s inbox. If you are putting up posters, buying ads online, reaching out to people personally, or any other process to get people’s attention you have entered into competition for people’s most valuable resource. Their time and attention.

You need to make your message unique and identifiable. If you are just sending out the same form email you send every year you will get lost in the deluge of information people receive every day. Get your logo, your name, the name of the event, and other identifiable information out there first. You need to grab their attention.

Be specific. Who are you, and why should they be interested? Get your message to them without unnecessary fluff or filler. They need to know your mission, deadlines for the application, how to start the process, and other necessary information as quickly as possible. Make sure that your message is clear and concise.

While being specific, you need to lead with your message. You will get their attention with your logo or the title of your event, but you will lose them if they have to search for the purpose of your communication. Tell them right away. Ask them to apply, show them how, and do it as quickly as possible.

Put the benefits out front

What are you offering them? Frame your proposal to them as a benefit. Let them know what they can gain by giving your message just a little bit of their time. If you have a prize, tell them. If you are offering a scholarship or a grant, tell them. Nothing grabs someone’s attention and motivates them like telling them they have something to gain from it.

Don’t bury the lead. If they stand a chance to win some money. Put that in big, bold print. Let them know as quickly and noticeably as possible. Identify exactly how they are going to get that money. Tell them how easy it is, and let them know how good their chances are.

Use data to your advantage

Using the advice in the previous points will help you to craft a useful message, but you need to think about how you are going to deploy that message. If you are blasting unqualified or uninterested individuals with your message it won’t accomplish anything for you. You need to aim your message as precisely as possible.

One of the keys to aiming your message is the data you have available to you. If you are lucky enough to be running a program that is repeating, look at your past applicants. Start to identify the characteristics of your previous applicants. Can you pick out skills, interests, or other identifying characteristics that your applicants commonly have? Can you figure out what time of year they fill out the application? Identifying this information will have multiple benefits. You will reduce your work and reduce wasted effort.

Make the process as painless as possible

So now you’ve got their attention. They know why they heard from you. They know who you are. Most importantly, they are excited by what you are offering them. Seems like you just got an applicant, right? Not quite. You can still lose an applicant in a lot of different ways.

The first thing to keep an eye out for are any barriers to entry. If they are using your website, is it easy to navigate and use? Don’t make your applicant jump through hoops just to get to your application. You want them to get in to the application as quickly as possible.

With that in mind make sure to consider all of the questions in your application. Think about them from an outside perspective. Try and identify any questions that could be confusing or misleading. You have to simplify them or eliminate them. If people hit a stumbling block in an application that confuses them, they will stop the application. Also think about the information you are gathering. If you are asking too many questions, gathering obscure information, or asking questions that could be eliminated you are going to lose applicants in the process. Consider your application and cut it down to the most basic possible form it could be in. Simple direct questions that are limited to only the completely necessary pieces of information are ideal.

Set a schedule

An overarching necessity in gaining applicants, and your overall process, is creating and sticking to a schedule. You need more than just a calendar with some vague deadlines and dates. Take the time to identify the true time line and deliverables you need to keep in mind. You need to set milestones. How many applicants do you want to get? Break it down into groups and deadlines for that number of applicants. You need to be aware of what your current applicant count is long before your deadline if you want to get the most applicants possible. With that in mind, plan contingencies for when things don’t go to plan. Not everything is going to go perfectly. If you miss a milestone or requirement you need to know in advance what you will do. If you are rushing for applicants at the end without a prior plan in place you are setting yourself up for failure.


Maximizing your applicant count is a long and difficult process. There are pitfalls that you will need to watch out for. By following this advice you stand a far better chance to avoid them. Always remember to personalize your message, incentive your applicants, and streamline your process for applicants. As with any process in business, or in your personal life, always remember to keep your schedule and plan for contingencies