Getting the Most From Your Upcoming Anniversary

By Mary Kaufman-Cranney, CFRE, Vice President

During my tenure as the head of development with the YMCA of Greater Seattle, I was lucky enough to be there for the organization’s 125th anniversary.

As the 120th year of the YMCA of Greater Seattle loomed ahead, I asked our public relations volunteers if we should start getting ready to celebrate. Their reply? A resounding, “No! Save it for the big one at 125 – but start planning now.”

“Five years out?” I thought to myself. “That  seems crazy!” But as we started to explore the significance of the 125th and realize that no update had been done on our history timeline since the 100th – not to mention electronically capturing our history and thousands of photos dating back to the late 1800s – we had lots to do.

We also realized that it was important to make it a yearlong celebration because it’s more than just a party. Our charge was to make it a highly strategic initiative to raise the profile of our YMCA and rally the Y family and community around the Y today and what it means to the community.  And it truly was an amazing year of celebration and communication concluding with Y Day at Seattle’s ballpark where thousands of Y members, staff and volunteers came together to celebrate.

Whether it’s your 20th or your 100th, think about what you can accomplish for your organization if the celebration is done right. Fundraising might be a part of it, but it shouldn’t be the only thing. It should take place over a stretch of time, ideally the whole anniversary year for a major milestone, but maybe it’s just a month-long celebration or it kicks off in January and concludes with your anniversary month. Whatever you do, use a timeframe that makes sense for your organization.

Here are my five steps to success that will guide you in your planning.

Five Steps to Success:

#1 – Know the reason for your anniversary celebration

You first must understand why you are planning the celebration and clearly articulate what you will accomplish as a result of the time, effort and financial resources you will put into the anniversary. It’s a chance to tout your achievements over the years, strengthen key relationships with and thank staff, volunteers, donors, members, clients, and the community at large. You should also use this time to set the vision for the future while leveraging past successes and milestones. The Madison Community Foundation took a very thoughtful and thorough approach to their 75th anniversary in 2017 and established a clear goal for their planning: To dramatically raise the awareness of, affinity for, and affiliation with the Madison Community Foundation across the greater Madison area.

#2 – Put a stamp on it and brand your anniversary year!

You should brand your marketing for the year (or specific timeframe) of your anniversary and you might want to come up with a theme for the anniversary as well. For sure, you will want to establish your three key messages for the year. What do you want your audience to know, feel, and how can they take action?

You may want to incorporate the year’s anniversary symbol into your theme. For example, the 20th anniversary symbol is platinum, the color is Emerald Green and the flower is the Day Lily.

It’s a good idea to create a logo to signify your anniversary throughout the year. Here are a few good examples:

The Alford Group is celebrating our 40th anniversary in 2019 and here is our logo for the year:

Here are some additional tips:

  • Ask your current graphic designer if he/she would do this at a discount
  • Launch a contest for logo designs as a way to collect ideas, but also to invest your partners, members, volunteers in the fun
  • Use your website to communicate an anniversary focus, building on the targeted messaging and key audiences you have identified
  • Highlight a monthly success story on your website, through social media and/or with blog posts
  • Share a fun historical fact each month
  • Use social media as a place where you can gather stories of your impact/success and deepen relationships with stakeholders

#3 – Plan early, plan often

Give yourself as much planning time as possible. Not every organization is going to need five years like the YMCA, but one year in advance is common for significant celebrations. And maybe just a few months if it is a smaller celebration. Regardless, get input from across your organization, including staff and board members – and plan to engage them.

Can you create a diverse committee of board members, donors and key staff to help plan? Can you recruit prominent chairs? Can you create a gathering of those involved in your organization through the years to help you fill out your history and key milestones? It will be great cultivation for volunteers and they will most likely be willing to help with resources.

For the YMCA’s 125th anniversary, we formed a committee with two prestigious Y volunteers co-chairing. Over a year’s time, the committee adopted the goals and strategies, found resources and partners to maximize the yearlong anniversary.

The heart of your planning needs to be defining your primary audience and clearly articulating who the key people and audience groups are that you are trying to reach. Be specific and be realistic. Then develop a plan to reach your key audiences. This can be a lot of fun and if you don’t over-think it, it’s not all that difficult to pull off!

The Alford Group has developed a planning matrix tool that will guide you in your preparation.

#4 – Tactics – doing it right

Questions to ask:

  • Does every tactic and idea help you reach your key audiences?
  • Is there an initiative you can launch? Such as a commemorative year scholarship program, a new program you were going to launch anyway, a time capsule, a book, research study or a limited edition product?
  • Do you want to create a commemorative gift to serve as a sincere thank you to your staff and supporters?
  • What is the fundraising opportunity? A special endowment campaign? Anniversary gifts for a special initiative? Funding to propel the next 50 years? Can you link anniversary giving to a monthly giving program?
  • What is your budget? Most non-profits won’t have much in terms of financial resources (and you will need some!), so think about what you are currently doing that you can leverage.
    • Do you have events that you can put an anniversary twist on?
    • Do you have print materials that need to be freshened up?
    • Do you have a budget for PR or marketing that you can reallocate to the anniversary?
    • Is there a donor or board member who will make a special gift to sponsor the anniversary?

To the right is an example of a creative and effective anniversary marketing piece that served multiple purposes.

Download: CC Timeline Infographic

Catholic Charities created this print piece as part of their annual marketing budget as their symbol for their anniversary year.

The organization used it in brochures and they stretched its use and incorporated it into posters and invitations to a series of events as well. They also produced it in Spanish to meet the needs of their bilingual community.

#5 – Launch and make it happen!

Be strategic. You should develop a celebration-long calendar of key activities and back it up with a timeline to execute (be specific about who does what and by when). Be sure to give yourself lots of time to accommodate challenges and hiccups so that you really make it work. Don’t forget to set aside time on your calendar each week to accomplish the plan. And note that you should convene your committee several times early on so that as momentum builds, they can experience the excitement, but also evaluate and help keep you focused. Then celebrate and enjoy your past successes while launching the next vision of your organization!

If you want to see the results of a well thought out and executed anniversary celebration, check out our webinar on anniversaries where our colleagues at the Madison Community Foundation share their experience and success story.