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Does anyone care about your anniversary?

Your organization has reached a milestone: making an impact for ten years, twenty years, one hundred years.

So what?

Anniversaries are frequently the genesis for fundraising campaigns. They mark a natural moment for reflection, celebration, and/or strategic pivots—which all come with built-in roles for philanthropy. They can be easily differentiated from your day-to-day fundraising. And, when there are no major construction projects or programs to entice donors, anniversaries seem as good a reason as any to launch a campaign: one of the most effective fundraising tactics. (This is particularly true for sectors like higher education, perpetually in or planning their next campaign.)

Each of these motivations, while valid, is more about nonprofit convenience than donor inspiration. Few gifts are given solely because your organization has reached a nice round number of years. Are there opportunities to improve our nonprofit anniversary campaigns?

Telling a better story

The case for an anniversary campaign must be stronger than an appeal to “give in celebration of fifty years of service!” Such a message is neither unique nor compelling. And more importantly, these messages are inherently about you and your institution. Transformational gifts are inspired by causes, not institutions. The case for your anniversary campaign, then, must be about giving through your organization in service of a greater cause, not giving to your institution. Show donors how they have created a better world over the years. Tell stories that illustrate past accomplishments and speak to your reason for being.

Connect your anniversary to your cause. Perhaps you are a women’s organization, commemorating forty years of fighting for social justice. Consider highlighting forty noteworthy women, or forty policies that have advanced women’s rights. And involve your supporters in identifying these moments of impact! They are familiar with your work, and their involvement will generate buy-in and enthusiasm.

Celebrating the donors at the heart of your work

Your donors helped to build your lasting legacy! Put their contributions, and the power of philanthropy, at the center of your campaign. You might…

  • Create special acknowledgements for donors who give at levels aligning with your anniversary (e.g., for a fiftieth anniversary, gifts of $50, $500, $5,000, $50,000, and $500,000 might receive special thanks or recognition).
  • Celebrate lifetime giving, and your most consistent supporters. What better time to recognize the donors who have been with you since the beginning?
  • Embrace your milestone when setting goals—and not just your total fundraising goal. For example, for your centennial anniversary, you might aim to attract 100 new donors to your legacy society, or encourage donors to reach $100,000 in cumulative giving.

Almost every organization eventually turns ten, twenty, one hundred. Nonprofit anniversary campaigns should focus on what is distinctive to you: your cause, and the donors who make your work possible.

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