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It happens to all of us—people, pets, projects, and, of course, nonprofits and for-profits alike. It being anniversaries. (It happened to me last month, in fact. Again!) We’ve helped a lot of organizations celebrate their anniversaries with positioning, planning, and brand identities, so I thought I’d share some of the counsel we give, as well as the lessons we have learned.

Before you start planning the well-deserved observation of your many trips around the sun, consider these points:

Why. What do you hope to gain from the celebration? There are seemingly innumerable reasons to celebrate your organization’s anniversary.

  • Fundraising. Leveraging an anniversary is a great way to raise money, whether it’s for an annual fund or the launch of a capital campaign.
  • Friend-raising. Sometimes, it’s just as important to begin new, long-term relationships with supporters.
  • Building awareness. When it comes to capturing the public’s attention, there’s a lot of competition out there! An anniversary celebration is a great way to have your story jump to the head of the line.
  • Invigorating your base. Attention spans are decreasing faster than the demand for land lines. Anniversaries provide a great opportunity to remind people that their support is still needed.
  • New initiative or product launch. An anniversary showcases your organization’s longevity and enhances its credibility. Credibility is crucial when starting something new.
  • Gratitude. If your organization has been around for a while, it’s clearly not because of just one person. Use the anniversary to thank those who got you to the milestone and inspire others to help as well.

Whatever the reason, it’s crucial you get crystal clear on your why before you invest thousands of dollars, hours and hours of time, and your social and reputational capital. In order to decide how much you will invest, you have to know what you want to achieve.

What. Anniversary celebrations can take many forms. Think creatively about what forms those can take. Will it be a literal event, a series of events, a year-long virtual celebration of messaging, thought leadership, and promotions, or a combination of all three?

Throwing a single event is fine, but know that the return on the investment is likely to be meager. It’s better to use your milestone as a way to reassert why your work matters, how you’re different from other organizations, and to inspire others to join you.

For example, a few years ago, we helped Boston-based EdVestors craft a messaging strategy to celebrate their 20-year anniversary. The 20th Anniversary of EdVestors gave the organization a wonderful opportunity to:

  • Celebrate the paths and the people who brought EdVestors to where it is;
  • Highlight its current work; and
  • Facilitate dialog around how best to prepare every Boston student to activate their power and shape their future.

We also created a logo for the year that highlighted the anniversary’s theme of  “Partnerships • Progress • Possibilities.”

Who. Who will you involve in the celebration? This question has two angles: who will make it happen, and who will participate in it? Whoever you need, secure their buy-in and points of view before you finalize any plans.

When. At the beginning of an anniversary year, at the culmination of it, or somewhere in between. You can make strong cases for any of those, so the truth is that it doesn’t really matter. Of all the details to consider, when it happens relative to the actual anniversary is largely irrelevant. Far more important is when it happens in conjunction with holidays, campaigns, and other organizations’ calendars. When it comes to when, focus on logistics, not historical accuracy.

If you have an anniversary approaching, let us know. We love helping organizations make the most of them. We also love cake.

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