Everybody wants to be a winner. When it comes to creating incentive programs, one of the first steps is determining who is eligible for the incentive award. This may sound easy, but there are a lot of variables involved. There’s more than just the question of eligibility—you need to determine who can participate before you can figure out who will win. Here are the important factors to consider when establishing qualifying criteria for your incentive program.

Open-Ended vs. Closed-Ended Programs

The first stage of your process should be determining whether you want an open-ended or closed-ended program. Open-ended programs allow anyone who achieves the winning criteria to receive the reward, while closed-ended programs have a specific, pre-determined number of winners and exclusive criteria. There are a few factors to consider when choosing which of these routes you want to take.

Closed-ended programs, which have a fixed number of winners, allow for a fixed budget. Tightening the requirements also rewards the hardest workers, which can promote increased productivity in the whole team. However, closed-ended programs risk establishing criteria that is too lofty. Qualifying criteria should promote hard work, but also be attainable. What’s more, a goal that feels too unattainable may hurt morale and overall motivation. If, in the last month or so leading up to the end of the program, people start to realize that they may not make the cut, this realization can lead to decreased motivation and output.

Open-ended programs, while harder to budget, can greatly benefit group morale. Offering the reward to anyone who meets the requirements creates a sense of camaraderie; everyone is in it together. What’s more, open-ended programs can make a great recruiting perk, as new employees are equally eligible. However, since the number of winners won’t be clear until the end of the program, it’s difficult to know how much money the program will end up costing.

Both open- and closed-ended programs have their pros and cons, and you’ll have to determine which is best for your company, your budget, and the demographic you’re targeting. Tied to this decision is the more specific question of who exactly will be eligible for your program.

Who Gets In and Who Will Win

There are a number of different criteria you can use for who can participate and win your incentive. Here are the most common varieties:

  • Title/Role/Position: A program only open to C-suite executives, franchise owners, or salespeople, for example.
  • Performance: Only top performers or earners would win. Or, in a different scenario, the people who lost the most weight in a healthy worker program.
  • Length of Employment: Only those who have been continuously employed by the company for a set amount of time would be eligible.
  • Attendance Record: Eligibility allowed only to those with a perfect attendance record.
  • Supplier Objective: Participants must move a certain amount of a specific brand, product or model within the allotted time.
  • Timeline: The whole team wins the incentive if a goal is reached within a certain timeline, such as zero workplace injuries over a 6 month period.
  • Chance: Everyone qualifies, but the winners are selected at random through a drawing or other game of chance.


A good incentive program will motivate participants with realistic qualifications that require hard work. No type of qualification is inherently better than the others—it all depends on what you’re aiming for, and what criteria makes the most sense for your company and target demographic. But understanding your different possible options should help you determine what will be best for your team.

Are you in the process of setting up an incentive program requiring travel?  If so, contact Gavel International for more information about our travel incentive programs.