Search for Excellence (SFE) is the recognition program of the Extension Master Gardener (EMG) volunteer work throughout the United States, Canada, and South Korea.  SFE has seven categories in which EMGs can demonstrate their outstanding contributions to their communities.  All SFE applications must show that significant learning took place, whether by the EMG or the general public.

All Extension Master Gardener volunteer projects are significant to their communities, but not all are SFE projects. The SFE is designed to recognize outstanding group projects and not an individual who does outstanding work.


  1. Choose the single category that best fits the project. Only oneproject may be submitted by a group per category:
    1. Community Service
    2. Demonstration Garden(s)
    3. Innovative Project(s)
    4. Research (applied scientific methodology)
    5. Special Needs Audiences (senior, disabled audiences or horticultural therapy)
    6. Workshop(s) or Presentation(s)
    7. Youth
  2. Projects will be judged on their merit from work done between the years 2016-2018. Projects entered must have completed a full year to be entered. Program projects that have previously won International Master Gardener Committee (IMGC) SFE awards are not eligible in any category.
  3. Simple to replicate. A goal of SFE is to share the excellent ideas and programs so that they can be replicated by other MG groups.  A 20-acre botanic garden would be difficult to replicate, but the gardening ideas inside it might be easy to recreate at another site.  A step-by-step “how to do this” would be a great way to share your project.
  4. Practicality. An SFE program is one that is easy to use and fits well for its intended situation. In other words, you have found the best way possible to meet a need of your community. For example: You could develop a wonderful program with a $20.00 admission cost, but if people can’t afford the cost, they won’t come.
  5. Original and creative. We are looking for that added touch that makes this program your own, or that reflects the personalities of the Master Gardeners involved. We don’t want you to recreate the wheel, just maybe parts of it so that it fits your situation.
  6. Compatible with Extension and EMG missionsMake sure to specifically link your project with the goals listed in 1-4, below.  Do not assume that the reader can figure out that your project is compatible with Extension and EMG missions.
    1. Projects should have an educational component.
    2. Projects must be available to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, veteran status, political beliefs, sexual orientations, national origin, and marital or family status.
    3. Projects should extend the resources of the University to the public wherever they live, helping them use knowledge to solve problems at work, at home, and in their communities.
    4. Information provided should be university research-based.
  7. We also consider whether significant learning occurred, as well as the number of people impacted by the program.


When you submit, you will need:

  • Name of MG Program, County, and State/Province (e.g.  A MG Program, Lancaster County, Nebraska or Some Other MG Program, Toronto, Canada)
  • Name, address, phone and email of MG volunteer contact person(s)
  • Name, title, address, phone, email of MG coordinator/staff person
  • Category:  must select and submit in only ONE category
    • Community Service
    • Demonstration Garden(s
    • Innovative Project(s
    • Research (applied scientific methodology
    • Special Needs Audiences (senior, disabled audiences or horticultural therapy
    • Workshop(s) or Presentation(s)
    • Youth
  • Name of Project 
  • Description of the project.  Include target audience, goals, location and partnerships
  • Be sure to address items 3 through 6 in the guidelines.
  • Methods.  Discuss planning, implementation, and evaluation (e.g. how results, learning and impact were documented)
  • Results
  • Significant learning and impact
  • Budget narrative
  • Names of active Master Gardeners ONLY who are involved in the project from start to finish and that should receive a certificate.  Please do not include their role.  Please do not include any other individuals in this listing.


Significant learning, change in attitude and practices are outcomes that Extension uses to evaluate the impact of their services and programs.  Impacts from Extension Master Gardener projects should improve people’s lives. Explain how this project augmented learning, increased knowledge, or changed practices to enhance quality of life. These impacts could be economical, environmental, educational, health, community-based, etc.  SFE projects should be developed to reach the most people possible from the target audience. Impact numbers are not as significant if the target audience does not learn or utilize information. Make sure you ask participants how this information helped them and record this as an impact. Depending on the nature of the project the evaluations may be very informal (i.e. casually asking questions) or formal (i.e. pre-test/post-test).

For example: Evaluation questions that ask, “How do you plan to use this information?” or “Can you share specific information that you learned today?” can help show impact—especially if you can show that 70% of the participants plan to change a gardening practice such as ‘use fewer pesticides’.  Look at the Extension Master Gardener Blog for information about prior winning SFE projects.


  • Extension Master Gardeners involved are currently in good standing
  • Photo releases are on file for all individuals in the photos or as required by the applicable laws of the local state or province
  • All application documents have been reviewed—The on-line application process will include an email verification of the full application which the Master Gardener should forward to the Extension Advisor/Coordinator.
  • The deadline for receipt of this verification is seven days after the application is received.  The final deadline for entries: DATE TBD. The final deadline for verification letters: seven days after submission of application or September 7, 2018, whichever is sooner.  Any project submitted without this verification letter being received will be disqualified.
  • Submit only the items listed in the application instructions above (e.g. application, verification letter, up to six photos).
  • Receipt of the Extension Coordinator’s email will be verified via email from the IMGC SFE Committee within three business days.  We cannot be responsible for applications that we do not receive.


  1. If you are selected as a Search for Excellence first place winner, you will be expected to present a short (3 minute, maximum) VIDEO about your project at the 2021 International MG Conference, which will be held in NORFOLK VIRGINIA. ( This year these presentations are to be in the form of a prerecorded video (preferably an mp4) and are to be submitted no later than one week ahead of the conference. The presentation must be coordinated in advance with the SFE committee. Second and third place winners will be acknowledged at the conference, but will not present a video.
  2. BLOG POST: Each 1st, 2nd, and 3rdplace winner will be expected to create a short blog post about their winning projects for the National EMG Blog 
  3. POSTER: Each 1st, 2nd, and 3rdplace winner will be expected to prepare a poster to be displayed at the 2019 International Master Gardener Conference.
  4. There is no reimbursement for your registration fees or travel expenses to the International MG Conference.We will inform you of the outcome of your Search for Excellence application by DATE TBD, to allow your group to take advantage of early registration discounts for the 2021 International Master Gardener Conference.
  5. The Master Gardener program, rather than individual Master Gardeners, will receive a small monetary award and plaque for winning first place in each Search for Excellence category. Second place winners may receive a monetary award if funds are available. Second and third place winners in each category will receive a certificate.


All applications are judged independently by at least two Extension Faculty and two Master Gardeners. They will use the following criteria:

  • The simplicity of project (easy to replicate): 10 points
  • Practicality, usefulness or relevance of project for the situation: 10 points
  • Originality or creativity: 10 points
  • Consistent with Extension and MG missions: 20 points
  • Clarity and completeness of project application: 20 points
  • Did significant learning occur?: 20 points
  • Number of people impacted: 10 points
  • TOTAL:  100 points


All of the judge’s scores will be totaled and divided by the number of judges.

Projects that do not achieve a score of 80% or better are not eligible for an SFE Award.

A judge will be excused from judging an application from the state in which they work or volunteer as an EMG.

An aggregate scoresheet along with all of the judge’s comments will be returned to the applicants as soon as possible. We hope that the comments will help to strengthen your volunteer work. All decisions and scoring by the judges will be considered final.

In the case of a tie, duplicate prizes will be awarded.