How will you celebrate your non-profit’s next anniversary?

anniversary1Every year, it seems like one of the charities I support is celebrating some kind of anniversary or milestone. Most of the time, it relates to the age of the organization, and it is typically a milestone like 25, 50, 75 or 100 years of existence. Sometimes it is a different kind of anniversary, where they’re celebrating a board member’s years of service or the age of something physical like a building. Regardless of the opportunity to celebrate, a fundraising solicitation is never far behind; however, anniversary celebrations can be so much more than just putting your hand out.

I graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) with both a BAUP (1992) and MUP (1994).

I know most of you are thinking “HUH?

BAUP is a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Planning, and a MUP is a Master’s degree in Urban Planning.

I spent six amazing years learning about the ins and outs of planning from some of the most amazing professors. In hindsight, I was laying a foundation of knowledge and practices that would serve me well as a non-profit consultant almost 20 years later. I have literally lost count of how many plans I’ve facilitated and written since graduating (e.g. strategic plans, tactical plans, succession plans, resource development plans, board development plans, marketing plans, business plans, etc).

anniversary2A few weeks ago, I started getting email and snail-mail announcing the 100th anniversary of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (DURP) at the University of Illinois.

Wow! 100 years . . . how could that be possible?

After some head scratching, I vaguely recalled the University of Illinois was only the second school in the country to offer urban planning curriculum back in the early days when planning was just getting off the ground as a profession.

Normally, I am not influenced by most non-profit organizations’ anniversary efforts to get money out of me as a donor. However, I am amazed at how many times I’ve found myself thinking about writing a small check to my Alma Mater in honor of the department and the people who gave me so much.

After the second or third time of almost making a contribution, I started wondering what DURP and UIUC are doing differently from so many of the other non-profit organizations in my life. So, I went back to the communications materials and mail solicitations and looked for clues. Here is what I found:

  • Their fundraising effort isn’t front and center. They don’t beat you over the head with their hand out. It is subtle.
  • Their focus is on sharing nostalgia and memories, and they want this to be a two-way experience.
  • They’re using this as a donor engagement activity by asking alumni to help them in a variety of ways.

anniversary3For example . . .

  • I’ve been asked if I have any interest in becoming a mentor to a student.
  • They’re conducting a remembrance activity and asking alumni to submit stories about their time on campus with the department.
  • They’re looking for old pictures for their archive.
  • Of course, there are two days worth of celebrations and activities on campus in early November where you can walk down memory lane and reconnect with faculty and friends.
  • Oh yeah, just as a side note, they’re announcing the start of a new scholarship fund for planning students.  😉

Over the years, I’ve read tons of fundraising articles, papers and books. In addition to considering myself a “planner” by education and trade, I also proudly consider myself a “non-profit and fundraising professional“. While my recall isn’t working well this morning, I have some vague recollection of someone once saying that “good fundraising” is 95 percent about listening and engaging versus 5 percent solicitation.

Will I write a small check? Will I attend the anniversary festivities? Will I take the time to submit a remembrance story?

I dunno. Maybe.

What I do know is that your non-profit organization can learn a lot from my Alma Mater with regards to using an anniversary celebration to deepen the level of engagement with your donors and raise a few bucks along the way.

The following links are additional resources I dug up for your review on this subject:

Is your agency planning a big anniversary celebration? If so, please share your plans. Have you ever been a part of another institution’s milestone celebration? What did you like? What didn’t you like? How did they weave resource development opportunities into the mix? Please share your thoughts using the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. G.I. Joe Search and Rescue, as our name states the obvious, is a search and rescue team. We always have a hard time coming up with ideas of our annual celebration. We always resort to a gala but are looking to venture out. If anyone have thoughts, we would love to hear it.

    1. Thanks Tori … galas are fun for anniversaries, but I also like tackling a special project like endowment building. It could be something fun like commissioning a piece of public art and placing donor’s names (e.g. those who make a direct contribution or pledge or planned gift to your endowment) around its base to celebrate their support. This artwork would also act as a permanent commemoration of your anniversary. Just a thought!

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