Request a Demo Search

[ASK AN EXPERT] Should You Celebrate Your Nonprofit's Anniversary?

Ask an Expert
Topics -

See How Bloomerang Can Have a Bigger Impact on Your Mission!

Schedule a Demo

Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity. Today’s question comes from a nonprofit employee who wants advice on when it makes sense to celebrate a nonprofit anniversary:  

Dear Charity Clairity,

We have a 75th anniversary coming up, and I really think we should do something to celebrate this milestone. But, I can’t get the board to really support this with much enthusiasm. In fact, they gave more over the past several years than they seem willing to commit now. What should I do?

— Opportunity about to be missed

Dear Opportunity about to be missed,

You’ve actually named the problem in the way you’ve framed your question.

You think this is an important milestone. Your board members apparently don’t. Your donors probably won’t either.

This highlights an important maxim of donor-centered fundraising: You are not your donors. Just because you, your executive director, or any “insider” feel a certain way about what’s most important about your mission, does not mean your constituents feel the same way.

Insiders, like you, tend to care about processes. In other words, how you get things done. With how many staff, volunteers, and locations. And for how many years. Why wouldn’t you care about this? You’re steeped in it!  Donors, however, are not. Donors care about singular impact.

EXAMPLE: If you work at a food bank, you may believe the fact that you distribute food via pantries located in neighborhood schools, churches, and community centers is super important. You’re proud of the network you’ve created, so lead with a message to supporters that talks all about the numbers of pantries and numbers of people reached. As counter-intuitive as it may seem to you, most donors don’t want to know how the sausage gets made (or food gets delivered). That’s your problem, and it appears you’ve already solved it. So, they don’t see why their money is really needed. You’re much more likely to engage their passionate support if you tell them one compelling “there but for the grace of…” story about someone who is hungry – someone with whom they can perhaps empathize. This shows them the impact they will create – this person will get fed – because the donor helped.

I’ve long felt anniversary celebrations are for insiders, not constituents. Think carefully about your goal to assure it’s legit.

Before committing to a plan to celebrate your “milestone,” ask yourself what you hope to achieve. Here are examples of reasons other nonprofits have chosen to highlight an anniversary, and why these reasons may be illusory.

1. It will raise awareness. For what? People are not going to give merely because you exist. And the fact that you’ve existed 75 years doesn’t make the messaging any more compelling. Try asking yourself a series of “why” questions to get to the root of what your real problem is. Is your goal to raise awareness, or is that the tip of the iceberg?

  • Why aren’t enough people aware of us? We don’t have a big enough email list.
  • Why is our email list so small? We don’t have good ways to collect emails.
  • Why don’t we have good email collection strategies? Marketing and fundraising are siloed, and neither can control what the other does.
  • Why are these two functions siloed? The executive director wants two department heads, each reporting to her; she won’t delegate responsibility.
  • Why might consolidating responsibility so marketing and fundraising work in tandem help bolster awareness?

In this scenario, you might determine using the occasion of your nonprofit anniversary to restructure your organization chart will be a wiser use of your time than sending anniversary-themed messages. Ultimately, a well-synched communications program – where the right hand knows what the left is doing — will more successfully connect with donors and demonstrate greater, resonant impact.

2. It will be a good chance to engage people. You should already have a robust donor engagement strategy. The “story” of your longevity is apt to be less engaging than the many specific unique-to-you beneficiary stories you have to share about real change. Everybody has birthdays… ho, hum.

3. It’s a not-to-be-missed opportunity. Opportunity for what? Is reminding folks you haven’t solved hunger, homelessness, or poverty a good thing? Is this really something to celebrate? This gets back to the maxim “you are not your donors.” Have a nice party with your board and staff, by all means. It’s swell to celebrate your hard work and how far you’ve come. But donors are going to be more passionate about the difference they can make today, not the length of time your organization has been making a difference. “Give $75 to support an orphaned child’s education” is better than “Give $75 for our 75th Anniversary.”

When celebrating your nonprofit anniversary may be valid.

There are some reasons you may still want to highlight a nonprofit anniversary. Plus, there are some ways to go about it that can support your mission rather than distract from it.

  1. To raise awareness about the enduring need – and the fact the collective fight continues. In this wonderful example, Cystic Fibrosis in the U.K. held a “no party” non-campaign: Cystic Fibrosis Trust ‘No Party’ – We won’t celebrate being 50 until everyone can. I’d add one caveat, however. It’s challenging to come up with something this clever. And, they probably could have simply relied on a few inspirational stories about their work without needing to go this route. On the other hand, the media may have picked up on this and helped them reach a broader audience. So, a good outcome.
  2. To boost a marginalized group. If you represent, or are led by, one or more marginalized groups, celebrating your existence may be important in and of itself. Because, in your case, people may actually give because you exist.
  3. When your survival was in question. If you just made it through a rough patch (like many did during the pandemic), an anniversary milestone may be just the opportunity to thank your supporters and your community for helping you pull through. The same holds true if you survived a natural disaster such as a fire, earthquake, tornado, hurricane, or tsunami.
  4. To celebrate internally. As noted above, it’s a good chance to thank staff and volunteers who put in the daily work.
  5. Your mission has new relevance. If you’re an organization that was founded to do one kind of work, and today it’s being called upon to respond to new challenges doing similar work, this is an opportunity to showcase the problems you currently address. For example, a refugee relief organization founded 75 years ago in the aftermath of W.W.II may have focused on resettling eastern European refugees. That same organization today may be focused on resettling Central and South American asylum seekers.

Final thoughts

If YOU are your target audience, question yourself. Just because you want to commemorate a nonprofit anniversary does not mean this is a good use of your organization’s time. And don’t lull yourself into complacency thinking “it can’t do any harm.” Yes, it can. Because all the time you’re spending on anniversary activities you’re not spending on higher-yield strategies.

At minimum, get specific with your goals. If you mostly want to do this to thank staff and volunteers, do that. And don’t get distracted by trying to turn this into a full-blown campaign whose objectives might be met more efficiently and effectively with other strategies.

Consider: What might be a better use of limited resources? Brainstorm a few possibilities.

Now you’ve got a number of real “don’t miss” opportunities!

— Charity Clairity (Please use a pseudonym if you prefer to be anonymous when you submit your own question, like “Opportunity about to be missed” did.)

Do you celebrate your nonprofit anniversary? Let us know in the comments.

Do you have a burning question for our Fundraising Coach?

Submit Your Questions Now!

Exclusive Resources

Related Articles


Leave a reply