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The North Carolina Awards for Excellence (NCAfE)

The North Carolina Award for Excellence Program

Based upon the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the North Carolina Award for Excellence (NCAfE) is the top state-level recognition presented to an organization that has demonstrated, through its practices and achievements, the highest level of performance excellence by applying the principles of the Baldrige Excellence Framework.

The Baldrige Excellence Framework provides the tools to examine and improve each aspect of your organization’s performance while keeping the whole organization in mind. The management framework enables leaders at businesses, hospitals, factories, schools and government bodies to examine every layer of the organization and devise strategies to reach goals, improve results and become more competitive by aligning people, plans and processes.

The framework consists of the Criteria for Performance Excellence and offers a recognized way to achieve the following benefits:

  • Innovation
  • World-class results
  • Integrated processes that enhance effectiveness and efficiency
  • Organizational learning
  • Sustainable success

Why Apply?

The Baldrige Excellence Framework is the key to accessing if your organization is doing as well as it could. Organizations receive extraordinary learning associated with applying the Baldrige Excellence Framework through the award application process. Receiving the NCAfE Award is recognition of being among the best performing organizations in North Carolina. The NCAfE award also satisfies a preliminary requirement for an organization that is interested in seeking recognition from the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Download and apply.

Application Timeframe

NCAfE is partnering with the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence to provide examiner training. Training will be held both in-person (if appropriate) and virtually with more details at


  • Board of Examiners Applications Due April 1, 2024
  • Awards Program Intent to Apply Due May 31, 2024
  • Examiner Orientation
    • Online May 9. 2024
    • In Person (Knoxville, TN) May 15, 2024
      Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence
      2525 Perimeter Place Drive, Suite 122 Nashville, TN 37214-3773
  • NC Examiner Training
    • In Person (Mills River, NC) July 9-11, 2024
      NC State University Mountain Horticultural Crops  Research & Extension Center
      455 Research Drive, Mills River, NC 28759
  • Award Program Applications Due July 31, 2024

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply?

Download Application Packet

NCAfE accepts applications once a year. In order to be considered in the 2023 award cycle, your application documents must be postmarked by the dates below.

Step 1: Intent to Apply – April 1-May 31, 2024
Complete the Intent to Apply/Eligibility Form. Mail one printed copy to NCAfE along with the appropriate Intent fee. North Carolina Awards for Excellence c/o Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence 2525 Perimeter Place Drive, Suite 122 Nashville, TN 37214-3773 (800) 453-5474

Step 2: Submit Application Packet by July 31, 2024
Complete the Application Form and Organizational Profile as described in the NCAfE materials. Mail one printed copy and one electronic copy of the Application Form, Organizational Profile, and Criteria Response to NCAfE along with the appropriate application fee. North Carolina Awards for Excellence c/o Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence 2525 Perimeter Place Drive, Suite 122 Nashville, TN 37214-3773 800.453.5474 (

Step 3: Prepare for Site Visit
The team of examiners assigned to your organization will begin their evaluation a few weeks after you submit your application packet. Shortly after, the team leader will contact you to schedule a site visit. During the two-to-three day visit the examiner team will tour your facilities and interview your leadership team and employees to gain a greater understanding of your organization. Site visits typically occur during October. A site visit fee applies to this step of the process. You will receive an invoice for this fee after the examiner team has completed its site visit. Please see the fee schedule for details.

Step 4: Award Notification and Feedback Report
In November, a Panel of Judges will review the examiner team’s work and confirm your award. Following this meeting, NCAfE will call with your results. You will receive your feedback report by the first of January.

Step 5: Recognition
NCAfE will work with your organization to determine an appropriate event where your organization will officially receive its award and be recognized for your pursuit of performance excellence. In addition, after you have been notified of your award, NCAfE will publicize your accomplishments via press release, email blast to our database and posting on our website.

Is there a cost to participate in NCAfE?

When an organization is ready to apply for the State Excellence Award, there is a fee that is due with the Intent to Apply/Eligibility Form to cover costs associated with initial processing and eligibility determination. There is also an Application Fee that should be included when the application is submitted to NCAfE. Both the Application Fee and the Site Visit Fee are determined based on the applicant’s number of employees, as shown below.

Number of Employees Intent Fee Application Fee Site Visit Fee Total Fee
Less than 100 $250 $1,800 $3,400 $5,450
100-500 $250 $3,600 $4,600 $8,450
501-1,500 $250 $6,000 $7,000 $13,250
More than 1,500 $250 $9,000 $8,200 $17,450

What type of organizations are eligible to participate?

Any business/organizational unit or subsidiary is eligible to apply for the NCAfE award. A subsidiary means an actual subsidiary, business unit, division or district office. Eligible organizations must be recognizable as discrete entities, and must be easily distinguishable from a parent and other sub-units. They must function as business or operating entities, not as activities assembled to write an award application. The business/organizational unit must be located in North Carolina.
Organizations must be self-sufficient enough to be examined in all seven Criteria categories. For example, an organizational unit with its own administrative, human resources and other support functions is eligible; but a unit that is entirely dependent upon the parent organization for the majority of these functions is ineligible.
The following organizational units are expressly allowed:

  • Business units or larger
  • A whole manufacturing plant
  • Hospitals within systems; whole health care systems
  • State government division/department/agency
  • Stand-alone subunits of larger organizations
  • School districts
  • Individual schools
  • Colleges within universities; whole universities

How are applications evaluated?

Applications are reviewed and evaluated in a five-stage process by members of a Board of Examiners. Those examiners, specially trained in the Baldrige Excellence Framework, adhere to strict rules regarding confidentiality and conflict of interest during each stage of the review process.
Stage 1 – Independent review and evaluation by a team of examiners
Stage 2 – Consensus review and evaluation by a team of examiners
Stage 3 – Site visit review by a team of examiners
Stage 4 – Final Feedback Report preparation by a team of examiners
Stage 5 – Panel of judges reviews and determines award

How long does it take to move through the Program?

Nine months: April through December.

Who are the examiners?

Examiners are volunteers from all industry sectors who have completed extensive training in the Baldrige Excellence Framework. An examiner team of quality-driven professionals is created for each application. This team comprises both new and experienced examiners.

Who are the judges?

An independent panel of judges is selected on a clear, standardized basis. There is representation from the following industry sectors: service, manufacturing, education, government and health care. The judges are familiar with the quality improvement operations of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, small businesses and large organizations. Judges will be familiar with the Criteria of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and the processes of the state-level performance excellence award.

What’s included in the Feedback Report?

At the conclusion of the evaluation, every applicant receives a written assessment by the examiner team called a Feedback Report. Providing a pathway for improvement, the Feedback Report is one of the most valuable features of the NCAfE Award process. Each Feedback Report contains applicant-specific strengths and opportunities for improvement based on Baldrige Excellence Framework. This input is extremely helpful for strategic planning and overall performance improvement. Confidential Feedback Reports are mailed to applicants after the awards process is completed.

Why do I send my application to the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence (TNCPE)?

NCAfE has contracted with TNCPE to manage the evaluation/award process of the awards program.

Is there a limit to how many State Excellence Awards are presented annually?


Do State Excellence Award winners have any additional responsibilities?

Part of our mission is to inspire and influence organizations across the state, and one way we do this is by showcasing the world-class processes of our award winners. Leaders from Excellence Award winners may be asked to speak or participate in NCAfE programs throughout the year. We also ask applicant organizations to send us new and experienced examiners. This helps us to maintain a robust and active volunteer workforce of examiners. This helps you integrate the Baldrige Excellence Framework more quickly within the organization, accelerating your quest for excellence.

How may I become an NCAfE Examiner?

Examiners are a group of quality-driven professionals who collaborate to assess the businesses and organizations that apply to the NCAfE Award Program each year. They’re tasked with developing the valuable feedback reports that applicant organizations use to streamline their processes, empower their workforces, and achieve the results they want.Examiners come from across the state and represent all industry sectors. Most participants complete the training because they want to challenge themselves and contribute in a meaningful way to organizations where they work and the communities where they live. Serving on the NCAfE Board of Examiners is a powerful personal and professional development experience. Starting with annual training and continuing through the applicant evaluation process, networking opportunities abound. In addition, examiners are exposed to the best practices of role model companies.

Employers have found that examiner training empowers employees to apply the Baldrige framework at their own jobs, improving processes and results along the way. Applicants have also discovered that having an examiner on their team improves their own NCAfE application.

NCAfE is partnering with the Tennessee Center for Performance Excellence to provide examiner training. The Examiner Training will be held both in-person (if appropriate) and virtually. Questions? Please contact Kevin Grayson at, or 704.751.9661. You can call NCAfE at 910.622.5849

TNCPE Examiner Apply Here

Who are past NCAfE award recipients?


Duke Regional Hospital
Pardee Hospital


Lower Cape Fear Hospice & LifeCare Center
Cherokee Indian Hospital 


Southeastern Regional Medical Center
CarePartners Health Services
CaroMont Health


NACCO Materials Handling Group


Southeastern Regional Medical Center


Accreditation Commission for Health Care, Raleigh, NC
Fleet Readiness Center East, Cherry Point, NC


Duke University Hospital, Durham, NC
WestCare Health System, Sylva, NC 


American Kennel Club
High Point Regional Health System
Iredell-Statesville Schools
NC Board of Nursing
NC Child Support Enforcement
Woodland Terrace


Asheville Eye Associates
Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools-Building Services
Duke University Hospital
FirstHealth of the Carolinas
High Point Regional Health System
Premier Inc.
Wake Med Health and Hospitals 


Asheville Eye Associates
FirstHealth of the Carolinas, Inc.
Iredell-Statesville Schools
NC Board of Nursing
Premier, Inc.


For more information visit:

Malcom Baldrige National Quality Award FAQs




Contact Kevin Grayson at, or 704.751.9661


Start your performance excellence journey today!

A great way to begin your performance excellence journey is by ordering a copy of the Baldrige Excellence Framework criteria booklet. This booklet provides an overview of the program and provides details regarding application and eligibility requirements, as well as the Criteria for Performance Excellence on which to base your self-assessment. To order your copy of the framework booklet, contact Mary Tillery at, 910-622-5849.