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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