by Yvonne Hundshamer, Founder Blue Grotto Inc.
Yvonne Hundshamer is the founder of Blue Grotto Inc. a company that provides expertise about corporate history and organizational culture projects for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, non-profit organizations and government services offices.
As a corporate history and culture consultant, Yvonne has directed both the research and project management on more than two dozen projects with clients including: 3M, Despatch Industries, Medtronic and National Car Rental.
In 2004, Blue Grotto completed a project for the University of Minnesota Alumni Association'sanniversary. Entitled "A Century of Memories" the publication was awarded the 2004 CASE V Gold Award.
Taking Ownership of Your Organization's Milestones
A thoughtful, well-defined anniversary celebration is an ideal opportunity to capture and communicate the values and philosophies that have made your organization successful.
Your anniversary is also a great opportunity to provide your organization's stakeholders with perspective on your past and insight into your strategy for future growth, thereby helping you strengthen donor and volunteer relationships.
Regardless of whether you will commemorate a 100th, 50th, or even 10th anniversary, a milestone represents a major achievement and certainly a time to celebrate that achievement.
Many organizations also use anniversaries as an opportunity to introduce themselves to an under-developed audience or donor base; to expand their outreach or development efforts; to mine the lode of archival materials; or to prepare for a leadership or organizational transition.
Planning for your anniversary is a highly creative process, and organizations are well served by taking full ownership of it. No other organization - no competitor - can deny you your history.
As Henry Ford once said: "You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do."
So how will you start?
Most organizations begin by creating a planning committee. This in itself can be a challenging process. It's easy for people to get excited about the idea of a party, a new logo, or an ad campaign, but tactics are seductive and are often off-target.
To maximize the true potential of your anniversary, the planning committee has to identify the objectives for the celebration and assess the potential and tactics for achieving those objectives. They must also create key messages - well in advance of the actual event.
There will never be enough resources to implement everyone's great ideas, but this reality can benefit you - by helping you to stick to a game plan and reminding you of the importance of setting priorities before acting. The planning process also will make it easier to garner the support you need from others whose participation will be critical to your project.
The executive team at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, reaped the benefits of extensive advance planning to incorporate the school's 150th anniversary into its overall three-year anniversary program.
The team at Hamline identified key audiences and ownership opportunities, developed measurement and evaluation tools and initiated a comparative study of other university and college milestone celebrations. All of theses steps enabled the school to confidently proceed with its own anniversary program.
Hamline's executive team charged its anniversary committee with developing a plan and associated tactics that would align its anniversary program with the goals and objectives of the University's overall strategic direction.
The committee then used the outline as a tool to:
- communicate its plan to the University's leadership, staff and, most importantly, faculty
- assess its progress throughout the three-year anniversary program .
- serve as a "measuring stick" to ensure that all anniversary activities remained true to the fundamental strategy.
Articulate Your History with Anniversary Publications
An integrated communications plan offers the chance to address employees, members, board members, donors, volunteers and the community at-large with a coordinated, purposeful message.
Every outreach tool - Web site, letterhead, newsletter, e-mail - can be used to convey purpose, values, history and reputation. A special commemorative logo and tagline can certainly be a core element, but be sure to consider big ideas, such as historical publications, too.
The University of Minnesota Alumni Association (UMAA) recently completed a year-long celebration of its centennial, during which it left a number of legacies, including a 36-page commemorative history entitled A Century of Memories. The publication was awarded the 2004 CASE V Gold Award in the category of Best Practices/Individual Projects, Alumni Relations at the CASE V conference in Chicago.
A short and engaging narrative, A Century of Memories is full of fascinating stories and photos that illustrate the long, strong and enduring relationship between alumni and the University. Also woven into its pages is a unique perspective on the history of the University itself.
A Century of Memories shares extensive stories of the UMAA and its volunteers' devotion to the University throughout its 100-year history. From the founding of the organization through its emergence as a prominent source of funding and support for the University, the publication communicates the important role that U of M alumni have played in the institution's success.
UMAA CEO Margaret Carlson insisted that their publication not simply be a tome - detailing sequential events of the past - but instead an animated narrative of the organization's life. With that in mind, Evelyn Cottle Raedler, UMAA communications editor and managing editor for the publication, had the tall task of sifting through an abundance of historical materials.
"Our archives, board minutes, alumni magazines and files are full of the association's very rich history," said Raedler. "But to tell a chronological tale was not our purpose."
One-on-one interviews with current and former board members, the CEO and managerial staff helped establish themes for the editorial outline. Additional interviews with volunteers, faculty and University leaders not only enhanced anecdotal information, but offered perspective and credibility.
Raedler explains, "We wanted to find the anecdotes and relate the stories that would bring our mission and traditions to life. In fact the major 'character' in this story is the alumni association - a very lively and colorful character indeed."
UMAA communications staff found the process enlightening and exciting, and the finished product a source of pride and accomplishment. Raedler relished the opportunity to add a new skill to her resume.
"I've been in the business of publications management for more than 30 years," said Raedler. "Most of them at colleges and universities. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to coordinate the history of an organization, and it has truly been a wonderful experience. Of course, working with an excellent researcher, a gifted writer and a talented designer made my job relatively easy and very worthwhile."
Anniversaries offer an organization a unique opportunity to look to the past and to the future. Take full advantage. Create an anniversary program that clearly celebrates your organization's strengths, culture and vision; capitalizes on its history and founding values; and prepares for its future.
About Blue Grotto Inc.
Blue Grotto Inc. specializes in anniversary planning, organizational culture research, analysis and communications. Founder Yvonne Hundsamer has led the planning and research efforts on more than 20 major anniversary projects for clients including Hamline University, the University of Minnesota Alumni Association, the Frey Family Foundation, and 3M.
Blue Grotto led a roundtable discussion at the 2004 CASE V conference on how an anniversary or milestone provides a great opportunity to: reconnect with alumni; instill loyalty and pride in graduating students; articulate the importance of your institution in the community; and how an effective anniversary publication can help expand outreach and development efforts, reintroduce the school to an under-developed donor base, and communicate with new generations of students and their families.
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For specific project examples and demonstrations, or more information on interactive displays, digital messaging systems and integrated donor wall projects, please contact Planned Legacy.