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6 Tips for Nonprofits to Maximize Milestone Anniversaries

Whether it’s 5 years, 10 years, 25 years or more, a mile­stone anniver­sary can be cause for a high-impact, far-reach­ing cam­paign. And for non­prof­its in par­tic­u­lar, anniver­saries present a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to share the organization’s his­to­ry and past accom­plish­ments, as well as declare a vision for the future. And equal­ly impor­tant, it can be a launch­ing pad for pub­licly shin­ing the spot­light on your orga­ni­za­tion as a whole – the start of a larg­er con­ver­sa­tion about who you are, what you do and why it’s important.

Over the years, our Non­prof­it Prac­tice Group has helped numer­ous non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions strate­gize and imple­ment anniver­sary cam­paigns – from the Uptown Art Fair’s “50 Days of Uptown” cam­paign in 2013 for its 50th anniver­sary, to Princess Kay of the Milky Way’s 60th year in 2013, the Min­neso­ta Land­scape Arbore­tum’s 60th anniver­sary in 2018 and most recent­ly, Peo­ple Incor­po­rat­ed’s 50th anniver­sary in 2019.

Launch­ing a suc­cess­ful mile­stone anniver­sary cam­paign takes fore­sight, plan­ning and a healthy dose of cre­ativ­i­ty. If your orga­ni­za­tion is look­ing ahead to a mile­stone year, here are key con­sid­er­a­tions to keep in mind going into the process that will help you get the most out of the occa­sion at every turn.

  • Start ear­ly. Has any­one done the math to iden­ti­fy when major mile­stone anniver­saries will fall in future years? Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it’s all too easy for mile­stone years to be over­looked alto­geth­er while every­one is focused on the day-to-day work at hand. Main­tain a list of the key anniver­sary years by five-year incre­ments – the 20th is in 2020, the 25th in 2025, the 30th in 2030, etc. – and include upcom­ing anniver­saries in annu­al plan­ning con­ver­sa­tions. We rec­om­mend start­ing to plan for an anniver­sary year cam­paign as ear­ly as three to five years in advance. It’s not impos­si­ble to pro­duce an effec­tive cam­paign in a short­er time­frame, but if you’re think­ing big and inte­grat­ing the anniver­sary into every­thing the orga­ni­za­tion does dur­ing that year, it’s best to start early.
  • Iden­ti­fy the time­frame for the cam­paign. How long will you be cel­e­brat­ing the anniver­sary? Will efforts be cen­tered on the day of the found­ing? Or is there an oppor­tu­ni­ty to cel­e­brate dur­ing the entire cal­en­dar year? For exam­ple, when our client Peo­ple Incor­po­rat­ed was look­ing ahead to its 50th anniver­sary, lead­ers there used the 49th year to express grat­i­tude to the com­mu­ni­ty and reflect on how far the field of men­tal health has come – a soft launch of sorts for its 50th year.
  • Deter­mine goals and audi­ences. Like any mar­ket­ing cam­paign, clear­ly iden­ti­fy­ing your goals and audi­ences will help ensure that efforts are focused and strate­gic. This is espe­cial­ly impor­tant for an anniver­sary cam­paign that can be years in the mak­ing and involve mul­ti­ple depart­ments and out­side con­sul­tants. Declar­ing goals and audi­ences ear­ly in the process – and stick­ing to them through­out plan­ning and imple­men­ta­tion – is impor­tant. Is the anniver­sary year an oppor­tu­ni­ty to raise pub­lic aware­ness of the work you do in the com­mu­ni­ty? Can it strength­en con­nec­tions with donors and sup­port­ers? Will it be tied to an advance­ment effort, such as a cap­i­tal cam­paign? Could you use the anniver­sary year to announce new pro­grams or ini­tia­tives or as the rea­son to rein­tro­duce the orga­ni­za­tion as a whole to media and oth­er influencers?
  • Remem­ber inter­nal stake­hold­ers. Employ­ees, vol­un­teers – not to men­tion the peo­ple you serve – are all groups that should be includ­ed in mile­stone anniver­sary cel­e­bra­tions. These are the peo­ple that are the heart of your orga­ni­za­tion. While anniver­sary cam­paigns can be sig­nif­i­cant oppor­tu­ni­ties for exter­nal rela­tions, pub­lic aware­ness and fundrais­ing, remem­ber to rec­og­nize the employ­ees and vol­un­teers who put in the long hours on the ground. And while every orga­ni­za­tion is dif­fer­ent in terms of the peo­ple served and their indi­vid­ual cir­cum­stances, eval­u­ate how they can be includ­ed in cel­e­bra­tions or how efforts can be tai­lored to them and their needs.
  • Thought­ful­ly plan galas and oth­er events. Mile­stone anniver­saries can be oppor­tu­ni­ties to go all out with annu­al events, such as galas. And for good rea­son – galas can show­case your lega­cy to long­time donors and new sup­port­ers, wel­come new peo­ple to your organization’s sto­ry and mis­sion, and can be vital to your fundrais­ing efforts. For exam­ple, Peo­ple Incorporated’s 50th anniver­sary cel­e­bra­tion drew near­ly 600 peo­ple, many of them new con­nec­tions, to cel­e­brate the orga­ni­za­tion, learn more about men­tal health in our com­mu­ni­ty, and hear from high-impact men­tal health advo­cates, includ­ing Kevin Hines, Zak Williams and KARE-11’s Sven Sundgaard, not to men­tion a con­cert by Mor­ris Day and The Time. There are also small­er event oppor­tu­ni­ties through­out an anniver­sary cam­paign that can dri­ve toward your goals. Think inter­nal employ­ee cel­e­bra­tions, events for the peo­ple you serve and social media “events” and ini­tia­tives through­out the year. For exam­ple, even though Peo­ple Incor­po­rat­ed cel­e­brat­ed with a big gala, the orga­ni­za­tion engaged in spe­cial small­er events through­out the year to mark the occasion.
  • Doc­u­ment the fes­tiv­i­ties. Pho­tos and videos of high­lights of your anniver­sary year will be key to show­cas­ing your efforts in all chan­nels. And 10, 20 or 50 years from now, your future mar­ket­ing team will thank you as they look for archived mate­ri­als to cel­e­brate the lat­est and great­est mile­stone year!

Last but not least, remem­ber to have some fun. After all, a major mile­stone anniver­sary year is a once-in-a-life­time oppor­tu­ni­ty for your brand – maybe even for your career – so let the cre­ativ­i­ty fly!

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