The ultimate guide to taking submissions

This series is a celebration of a decade of experiences supporting you to run open calls.

The Ultimate Guide to Taking Submissions

Taking submissions for an existing award or crafting a new competition can feel daunting.

As part of our 10-year celebrations, we will be sharing best practice based on the experience we’ve acquired supporting hundreds of organisations run open calls in the last decade.

Whether you are running a competition, award, residency, grant or any other programme opening up to submissions; these insights will support you from concept creation to measuring impact and completion.

Each section also includes

  • tips on things to watch out for during (and after) the pandemic
  • ways to ensure diversity and inclusion across your process
  • how to best use Zealous to successfully run your programme.

Please note: The sections below were created to help you think strategically about taking submissions for your programme. Following them in order may help you paint a clearer picture of what you are trying to achieve.


Planning is by far the best investment of time you will make. The more effort you put into planning, the less likely you will come across time-consuming issues later on in the process. e.g. ambiguous guidelines will lead you to you being swamped with questions near to the deadline.

I ain’t Martin Luther King. I don’t need a dream. I have a plan.

Spike Lee

Defining your purpose (& goals)

A clearly articulated purpose will help market your offering and encourage potential candidates to submit. It also helps to define your goals and attract partners to your initiative. Read more about defining your purpose.

Streamlining what you ask for from candidates

Knowing what candidates will need to do to submit is vital to define your process. Asking for a lot may impact your timelines and consequently the number of submissions you get. Here are our top tips on detailing the ask.

Establishing the perks

Potential candidates will only apply if they think what you have to offer is of value to them. Identifying what’s in it for successful applicants is vital to inspire candidates to submit to your open call (note – this need not be money!). Discover how to make the most with what you have.

Monetising your callout

Every programme allows you to raise money. It could be as simple as taking a submission fee or a more complex pricing strategy built to support those most in need. Explore how to make money from your open call.

Defining your selection criteria

How do you pick the winners? What happens if you are flooded with entries? How will judges know what should get a high score? These questions will inform your timeline and force you to rethink what you expect candidates to submit. Read more on what to watch out for when defining your selection criteria.

Laying out timelines

Timing is everything – opening your submissions at the wrong time or for too long could negatively impact the number of candidates who apply. Thinking of your dates in context is critical in ensuring a stress-free process. Find out more on what to watch out for when crafting the schedule for taking submissions.

Approaching judges & partners

Getting partners involved and securing high-level individuals to help you select winners is no easy task. But having someone recognisable on your panel is a big perk for candidates who want their work seen. Here are our top tips to appeal to judges you would like involved in your programme.

Writing the perfect guidelines

Guidelines are single-handedly the most important tool available to you in making sure candidates submit what you need. Having clear and concise guidelines also guarantees potential candidates don’t swamp you with questions as your deadline approaches. Discover what to watch out for when drafting your guidelines.

Maximising engagement

Want to engage with your communities or stakeholders? Building that into your process will allow you to increase the overall impact of your programme. Explore how to integrate engagement at every step of your open call.

Choosing your process

With everything you’ve learned whilst planning your open call, now is the time to choose your process. What tools should you use? How will they all fit together? How can you save time at every step? Read up on what to consider when choosing your process.

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Building trust

Building brand recognition and trust with potential candidates is essential to your continued success, not just for your programme but for your organisation as a whole. Small things like imagery, copy and support go a long way in ensuring people remember you. Discover how to leverage your brand and build trust with potential candidates.


With proper planning, execution should be a breeze. Now is the time to let as many people know about your programme and catch any issues, so you are prepared for the inevitable last-minute rush to submit.

Execution is everything

Jeff Bridges

Effectively managing incoming submissions

Although planning is essential, it is impossible to foresee every issue candidates will come across. Fielding questions early, creating transparency around the process and being available, will benefit you on the lead-up to submissions closing and beyond. Here are a few tricks to effectively manage candidates and save time doing so.

Marketing your open call          

You could be offering the most incredible opportunity for candidates, but no one will submit if the right people don’t know about it. With the planning done, marketing should be your primary objective when submissions open. Here are a few marketing strategies to increase exposure to your call out.


Your programme doesn’t end once you have selected the winning candidates. We know this is just the beginning of making your project come to life. Once the programme is over, measuring your impact and leaving a positive legacy to build on is crucial for any future projects you run.

Legacy above finances; artistry above fame.

Jimmy Chamberlin

Measuring your impact

With the right tools, gathering data and compiling it into something meaningful could take a matter of hours. With the wrong ones, you might need to set aside weeks. Here are a couple of tools to help you and tips on managing datasets to measure your impact.

Learn and repeat (debrief)

Success is incremental. The most challenging moments you have faced during your programme are also the most valuable lessons. Effectively debriefing once submissions close allows you to capture knowledge for your next initiative. Read our top tips on what to look out for when debriefing and sowing the seeds for future projects.

Simplify your submissions in minutes

Experience our submission management platform with a customised online tour.

About the author


Guy Armitage founded Zealous to simplify access to opportunities in the creative sector. He was voted Guardian’s Creative Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013, has discussed the world-changing potential of creativity at TED and in Forbes; and is a proud trustee of Firstsite (Colchester) and Arebyte (London). Prior to Zealous, Guy kept the London Stock Exchange open during the 7/7 bombings and founded a creative startup in Cairo. Contact Guy

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