When I think of nonprofit milestone or anniversary celebrations, I see visions of black tie galas. For someone like me, who has primarily fundraised for small nonprofit organizations, the prospect of organizing an event like that is daunting. How will all other daily fundraising operations continue if we focus on celebrating a milestone? And if we don’t have the resources to host a big event like a gala, is it worth acknowledging a milestone at all?
To learn how nonprofits of all sizes can harness the opportunity that a milestone presents, I reached out to two nonprofit leaders, Al Cantor of Al Cantor Consulting and Joyce Cellars of CPG Enterprises. Both were gracious enough to share their insights, and I was encouraged by what I learned about the range of options for nonprofits of all sizes. Whether you’re gearing up for a big event or you’re wondering how to celebrate a milestone on a smaller scale, these tips will help you make the most of your milestone celebration.
The big picture
Anniversaries and milestones are about impact. They’re a perfect occasion to reinforce what has been accomplished and highlight the difference your organization has made. Reflecting on the past is important, but it’s even more important to look to the future. Where is your organization going? What impact can it have on the community in the next 25 years?
Planning to host a celebration event?
Al Cantor says that when it comes to milestone celebrations, what works for one organization may not work for another—and milestone celebrations aren’t one-size-fits-all.
Think about the fancy gala I mentioned previously. If an organization already hosts a successful gala each year, then by all means an even bigger gala to celebrate a milestone is a great option! Keep in mind that it’s okay if black tie doesn’t fit with your organization’s culture. For a community garden network, a casual picnic may resonate with your stakeholders. Other organizations may find that a series of workshops or lectures is a better choice. Above all, your celebration needs to be true to your organization’s values and culture.
- Include stories of key stakeholders in your event. If your organization works with children, celebrate a 50th anniversary by including a person you helped 40 or 50 years ago and let them share how their life was impacted.
- Consider adding a celebration to an existing event. If your organization hosts an annual awards ceremony, augment that event by having staff hand out birthday cake to attendees.
- Host a small and intimate event for donors who’ve been supporting your organization for a meaningful number of years. Prepare a half-hour program during which the executive director and board chair share stories. Your goal is to make attendees feel like they’re in the living room of the organization.
Setting internal goals
Joyce Cellars cautions fundraisers to remember that events can have low return on investment. In addition to your event, or instead of it, you can use a milestone year to focus on internal goals to boost your fundraising operations:
- Annual report. If your organization isn’t yet producing an annual report, your milestone year is a great time to launch one.
- Planned giving. Use your milestone year to promote your planned giving program, and share donor profiles of supporters who have included the organization in their will. Don’t have a planned giving program yet? Check out our post on how to start one.
- Recurring giving. Make a push for recurring gifts and set a goal that’s in line with your milestone. For a 10-year anniversary, ask donors to give $10/month. If your organization isn’t yet accepting recurring gifts online, explore a solution like LGL Forms.
- Collect success stories. Set a goal of collecting two to three stories a month during the milestone year from people who’ve benefited from the organization’s work. By creating a library of these stories, you’ll have ample content to choose from when putting together fundraising materials in the future.
- Follow-up. Make a plan of how you’ll follow up with supporters in the year after the milestone so you can retain and sustain donors.
Whatever your organization’s size, you can find a way to celebrate a milestone that is true to your values, productive for your mission, and meaningful. Joyce urges you to be joyful and have fun with it—you have a lot to be proud of!
Thanks to Al Cantor and Joyce Cellars for sharing their time and knowledge.