What’s Involved with Running a Roll Up Competition?

There are certain types of competitions that follow a hierarchical structure. For example, you may submit an entry for an essay contest at your local high school, competing against your classmates. However, the top winners at your high school move on to compete for best in the state. And then the top winners of the state move forward to compete nationally.

We call competitions like this “Roll Up” competitions, for lack of a better word because winning entries roll up to the next level of the competition.

At face value, these programs seem like no big deal. But there are a ton of nuances that often go overlooked that increase complexity for these competitions both from a technological standpoint as well as operationally or politically. In this post we will highlight what an organization should consider before going down this rabbit hole.


If you’ve ever seen the film Inception, one of the key plot points is how many levels deep can one go: A dream within a dream is 2 levels. Dream within a dream within a dream is 3 levels, and so on.. With a roll up competition, you have to consider how many levels exist at your competition. Most common, and simplest, is just two levels. This often consists of a roll up from state level to national, or local chapter to national level.

Still popular are 3 level programs. These are scenarios where you have a local > regional > national roll up. Organizations like the American Advertising Federation and the Housing Industry of Australia run these style roll ups.

In extremely rare cases have we seen more than 3 levels. The one that comes to mind is the United States Air Force. The USAF runs over 1000 awards programs and nominations start at the flight or squadron level and make their way through the chain of command all the way to the Pentagon. That can be as many as 7 levels!

And nothing is easy or perfectly clean. You might have some pathways that are not uniform. For example, if you have 12 regions, each with a variable number of chapters, you might have 1 of the 12 regions with no chapters at all. The members would skip over submitting to a chapter and submit directly to the region. In that case, you have a 2-level roll up for some participants and a 3-level roll up for others. You need to account for all the possible pathways.


The next major item to tackle are categories. This can be challenging politically. We have seen several organizations fall in love with OpenWater’s feature set to run a roll up competition, only for them to hit resistance from local chapters who do not want to adopt a national standard.

There is a middle ground that we will cover though.

The national or top level organization should define a core set of categories that all child organizations should adopt. In the end, for all applicants to compete fairly at the national level, they do have to end up in national level buckets. Without that, a roll up does not make any sense.

But politically, what might make sense for one local chapter may not be applicable to another. An example would be Visit England’s Tourism Awards. At the national level, they defined a category called Camping, Glamping and Holiday Park of the Year. However, the local Cornwall chapter, at their own discretion, added 3 sub-categories: Glamping Business of the Year, Holiday Park of the Year, and Camping and Caravanning Park of the Year. Their applicants can compete within each of those sub-categories, but the winners will roll up into the national level category. Each chapter can define their own sub-categories that suit them best, so long as they “roll up” into the parent category at the next level of the competition.

Uniformity of Forms and Judging

Another difficult obstacle to overcome are uniformity of the submission forms and judging criteria. While different categories can have different forms, all child organizations must adopt a uniform submission format and judging criteria. This is essential for streamlining the process and ensuring fairness across the board.

Some chapters may want to go their own way. We have seen in some instances, a chapter run two competitions in parallel. First, they run the roll up component that has the shared national form and national-level categories. Alongside this, they also run a non-roll up competition for chapter-only categories with a chapter-specific form.

Collecting Money

And lastly, if your roll up competition charges entry fees, you face the additional problem of distribution of funds. The OpenWater platform allows each chapter to define its own payment processor and their own entry fees. Therefore it is possible for each chapter to collect their own money directly. However, some organizations require that everyone use the national payment gateway and national pricing.

Then it becomes a matter of running reports and calculating funds, and then reaching out to the counterparty (the chapter or national) and requesting their portion of the revenue, which is often shared via some previously agreed upon amount.

We hope this provided a decent overview of the most important items to consider when preparing for a roll up competition.

Watch Our User Conference Session on Roll Up Awards

Learn how VisitEngland and the American Advertising Federation uses OpenWater to manage their regional and national award programs. Learn how OpenWater enables multi-tiered organizations to consolidate (or rollup) their awards into a manageable structure. Learn how our software is used to streamline nationwide and chapter programs in OpenWater, including the options and tools used to help build and support them. Watch the session now.

Case Study: Associated Builders and Contractors