On an annual basis since 2007, ANCOR has bestowed Direct Support Professional of the Year Awards on professionals who exemplify excellence in the field of direct support to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Each year, we honor nearly five dozen outstanding DSPs, including a national award, as many as 52 state- and territory-specific awards (for all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), and a small handful of special category awards.
Nominations are typically solicited from Direct Support Professional Recognition Week (which typically begins the Sunday after Labor Day each year) through late November. Honorees are then recognized in a ceremony at ANCOR’s Annual Conference the following spring.
How to Nominate a DSP
The nomination process is completely online and requires that you create an account using Award Force, the nomination platform ANCOR uses to solicit nominations. If you submitted a nomination in or after 2020, you can use the same account for this year’s nominations. If you do not already have an account, you can create one in just a couple of minutes. We appreciate you taking this extra step, as it enables you to save a draft of your nomination and complete it at a later time.
Who is Eligible to Nominate or Be Nominated?
Any direct support professional, or DSP, is eligible, regardless of whether their employer is a member of ANCOR. For these purposes, a DSP is defined as someone who works as a direct care worker, in-home support worker, personal assistant or attendant that works directly with people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities to ensure that they have the supports needed to live, work and enjoy life more independently in a community-based setting. For more information about this definition, see the Frequently Asked Questions below.
Anyone who has experienced or observed the outstanding work of the nominee can nominate them. Most often, nominations come from the DSP’s supervisor or another member of the staff at the provider organization where they are employed. However, nominations can also come from the nominee (i.e., self-nominations are welcome!), other DSPs, people supported by the nominee, family members of the people supported by the nominee, family members of the nominee, etc. As long as the nominator can attest to the work of the nominee, it counts!
Writing a Strong Nomination
There are four key dimensions on which nominations will be evaluated. View the full evaluation rubric here. Understanding these dimensions can help you write a strong nomination. These dimensions include:
- Person-Centeredness: How does the nominee champion the individual(s) they support? How does the nominee support people to establish and achieve their goals?
- Relationships: How does the nominee empower the individual(s) they support to create and maintain friendships and relationships beyond the person’s family and staff? How does the nominee help facilitate relationships that enable the individual to be included in the community?
- Leadership: How has the nominee demonstrated personal or professional leadership? In what ways have they exhibited integrity, stepped up to coach their peers, taken on additional leadership roles and the like?
- Innovation: How does the nominee identify creative solutions to challenges and sticking points? How does the nominee think “outside the box” to improve the quality of life of the person or people they support?
In addition to responding to prompts in the nomination form about these dimensions, you will also be asked to complete two additional fields:
- Nominee Introduction: This item in the nomination form isn’t scored, but gives you the opportunity to frame your nomination and provide an overview regarding why you believe the nominee should be selected for an award. Think of this as your elevator pitch on behalf of the nominee; use this space to summarize some of the most compelling reasons why the DSP is outstanding.
- Additional Accomplishments: This item in the nomination form is scored, although it is weighted less than the four key dimensions described above. This item is designed to allow you to highlight ways that the nominee has truly exhibited excellence in direct support that may not relate to one of the four dimensions described above.
As you showcase how your DSP meets these criteria, it’s important to provide examples rather than just describe character and personality traits of your nominee. In our experience, all the DSPs nominated are hard-working, dedicated and caring. Therefore, the judging committee will be much more compelled by an anecdote demonstrating how the DSP went beyond the call of duty than by an assertion that the DSP is highly dedicated. Tell us stories about the DSP’s skills and values in helping people achieve meaningful outcomes!
We’ve been doing this a long time, and every year we refine our understanding of how DSPs exemplify excellence in the profession. Here are some additional recommendations based on our experience that will help you write the best possible nomination.
- Show, don’t tell! The sentence “Jane is an incredible leader and advocate” is not as compelling for the committee as a specific example that shows Jane exhibiting the qualities of a leader and advocating. Instead, consider sharing, “Jane demonstrated her leadership and advocacy skills when she organized a petition to address proposed cuts to the public bus service near Rodrigo’s home.”
- Articulate what differentiates your nominee from other DSPs: You already know your DSP is a rock star; you wouldn’t be nominating them if you didn’t think that was true! Therefore, we invite you to think about the things that led you to determine that this particular DSP was worthy of a nomination. How do they stand out, even among other DSPs from your organization? What have they done that is unique, or that sets a positive example for others in your organization?
- Focus on outcomes: The most compelling nominations are those that focus on the outcomes enabled by the DSP, rather than the outputs executed by the DSP. In other words, rather than describing the numerous activities carried out by your nominee, explain what difference those activities made for the people they support. For example, instead of “Jonathan is very active in supporting Rachel and Renee to participate in Special Olympics,” try “Supporting Rachel to participate in the Special Olympics was one of the key ways Jonathan supported her to achieve one of the main goals in Rachel’s support plan: maintaining a healthy weight. Jonathan helped Rachel through ‘training season’ by challenging her to jog around the lake twice a week. While she used to hate this, she’s now up to three times a week, and is encouraging her roommates to join her on these fun and healthy outings.”
- Remember that less can be more: Focus on sharing information directly related to the awards criteria. Don’t devote too much space other issues including, but not limited to, the nominee’s life story, describing how the nominee cares for others outside the scope of this award, or the list of jobs that led the nominee to his or her current position. If these elements are relevant to the criteria, state your case as succinctly as possible.
- Ensure your nominations are distinct from one another: Often, we receive multiple nominations from the same organization that are very similar or, in the worst cases, identical. We recognize this happens because you’re busy, but if we can’t distinguish between two DSPs from the same organization, our judging committee will struggle to distinguish between your nominee and nominees from other organizations. Remember, we’re looking for what makes the nominee uniquely qualified for the award.
- Complete the nomination: This sounds obvious, but you know that if it’s on this list, it’s on this list for a reason. Often, we receive incomplete nominations–ones that skip items or only provide a few words on an area where the nominator is unsure of what to say. In the most recent cycle, we received 350 complete nominations, plus a few dozen others that we considered incomplete. Simply put, we only evaluate the complete nominations, so ensure your nominee gets a fair review by completing all parts of the nomination form.