It is the anniversary of your non-profit organization. This day commemorates all that you have accomplished since the day your staff opened its doors. It is also a testament of your perseverance in a tough economy where there is competing demand for limited resources, and it is also a signal of longevity, which to many signals integrity and strength. Celebrating this longevity is a great motivator for leaders, donors, and volunteers and is truly a cause for celebration.
Sadly, unless there is heavy name recognition associated with your event, it will not generate much publicity. Anniversaries on their own simply aren’t that newsworthy. However, if you combine your anniversary with something else, then it is more likely to that people will take notice. Let me run you through some momentum-building ideas for celebrating your non-profit’s anniversary.
The first order of business is to decide what you want to achieve from this major event. Yes it is a time of celebration but if you’re savvy, you will think strategically about what you can achieve from it to further your cause. Simply put, what is your second purpose? Are you looking to attract new donors? Make some important connections? Draw media coverage? Having your purpose written down will help frame the rest of your planning.
Secondly, you want to begin the planning process early—ideally a year for larger events. For others, gather your staff into a room a couple of months ahead to generate event ideas. You will be surprised at all the ideas you will come up with collectively. Be sure to encourage all of your staff to be involved as much as possible. Not only will they feel as though they’re contributing to something, which this is great for office morale, but you will have more manpower to carry out this event.
If this is your first anniversary or if you’ve never planned one before, it is very clever to check out what other organizations have done in the past. Learn from the best. If nothing catches your eye, here are a couple of things to consider:
Organize a fund raising gala. Invite all previous and prospective donors, although bear in mind, the more you invite, the more your gala is going to cost. This is a fantastic way to interact with the people who have donated to your organization over the years, and of course a great way to share more information about how their donations are helping, and what you hope to achieve in the future. Quite often you will generate a rather substantial amount of donations through this method. Although remember, you should never expressly ask for donations, you are there to celebrate after all.
One of my favorites is using your anniversary to help promote a new cause. This will require more advance planning, but will surely be worth it. If the cause that you are focusing on resonates with a lot of people then you may even be able to get your anniversary story in the media, which is going to generate an even greater attention to the cause that you are trying to promote, ultimately leading to more donations and volunteers.
For example, Habitat for Humanity set out to build 1,000 homes in honor of their 30th anniversary. They partnered with a home-building cable network to send out PSAs and ran an hour-long special promoting their new feat. This action spurred a deeper interest to get involved from their existing network of volunteers and brought national media attention. You can do this on a smaller scale with localized media.
Another idea is to make a contribution to a member of the community in honor of your organization. For example, when Eskimo Pie celebrated their 75th anniversary, they donated 500 artifacts to the Smithsonian. These became a part of a Smithsonian exhibit on the history of ice cream which generated national media coverage. What’s more, millions of Smithsonian visitors learned more about Eskimo Pie.
Now I understand that not everybody has the budget to make a big splash. And quite frankly, sometimes less is more. If you’re looking to do something small, try something simple like a themed office party. Having a theme adds a layer of suspense and creativity to a simple event. It also allows your staff to get creative with the décor, food, and dress for the occasion. Another idea is to set up a projector and play videos of your non-profit’s recorded events throughout the years. This will give your staff members a renewed appreciation for what you do, and a will deepen their awareness of your organization’s history.
Another small and inexpensive way to celebrate your anniversary is to create an anniversary logo and order t-shirts, mugs, and stationary with it. You can give them to donors and volunteers. Add the logo to your website, social media posts, and other communications materials. Try creating an anniversary banner with this logo for your office and have it hanging the entire month of your anniversary. The idea is to let as many people know about this important milestone.
Finally, as your anniversary draws near, I suggest that you send a letter out to all recent donors thanking them for their support over the past year or so. Let them know how the money that they have donated is helping out the organization, and that you hope that they will support you in the future. It’s best to include a visual of something meaningful to your organization such as a staff photo or a photo of your organization at work. You may wish to include a reply envelope in your mailings, but never come out and expressly ask for donations, as this can be off-putting to some people when celebrating a momentous occasion.
Remember, no matter what you plan for your non-profit’s anniversary, emphasize the fact that it is a really special occasion and that you have reached a milestone in the life of the organization. Remember to include as many members of your staff as possible to foster community. You will be surprised at the turnout and the support you will have garnered after all of you hard work.