by Yvonne Hundshamer
Founder Blue Grotto Inc.
Yvonne Hundshamer is president of Blue Grotto Inc., a Minnesota-based business that works with organizations to document culture and values, celebrate milestones and articulate vision. Her weekly blog - A View from Blue Grotto - often tackles issues relating to nonprofits.
Celebrating Your Nonprofit Organization’s Milestones
What makes a milestone? And how can your nonprofit organization make it noteworthy?
People have a natural tendency to focus on major milestones such as a centennial. But even the smallest anniversaries - of programs, product launches, leadership and leadership changes, donor relationships - offer unique opportunities to celebrate, to reinvigorate and to learn.
In 2006, Habitat for Humanity celebrated its 30th anniversary. And how did one of the most recognizable nonprofits throughout the world choose to mark the occasion? With a Building Blitz of course. Homebuilders across the United States committed to building 1,000 homes in honor of the anniversary. But beyond home building, Habitat for Humanity took advantage of the milestone in other meaningful ways.
The organization partnered with the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) cable network to produce Public Service Announcements (PSAs) and an hour-long special. The DIY network created and distributed a training video for Habitat volunteers, and DIY staffers themselves volunteered in building the 200,000th home in Knoxville, TN.
Individual chapters from South Africa to San Antonio held events and raised money and awareness for the issue of poverty housing. The Mountain Lumber Company, in Ruckersville, VA, even celebrated its own 30th anniversary with an event that raised more than $13,000 for the Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity and Building Goodness Foundation.
Public leaders from around the world offered best wishes for continued success. You simply cannot pay for that kind of advertising. All because of a 30th anniversary.
Can you imagine what kind of leverage will come from their 50th?
Why milestones are important to your
nonprofit organization - and to others
Internally, milestones offer the chance for celebration and reflection. A look back at the incredible challenges and persistence that brought you to your current success can help to reinvigorate staff, board members, volunteers and donors. An examination of the hard work and optimism of past generations can give current leadership perspective and motivation.
Think about why milestones are important to others - outside your organization. Longevity is often quite correctly associated with integrity. A track record of providing service in the community demonstrates that you have gained the trust and resources of your constituencies and that you have proven, achievable results. Quantifiable results can sometimes be elusive in nonprofits, yet important to donors and others asked to support your mission. Take advantage of milestones that underscore your consistent leadership.
Milestones help to increase the visibility of your mission, allowing you to highlight your history of innovation or tradition of advocacy, while at the same time giving you the chance to articulate your organization’s vision for the future.
And celebration naturally brings people together. People want to celebrate your success. You can use a milestone to engage multiple audiences - to rally troops for advocacy, to invite reinvestment in your mission and to boost your outreach efforts.
How to find your organization’s milestones
First you must know what your milestones are. As organizations age, their institutional memory can become diluted. Timelines of innovative programs, leadership, and other milestone events can become lost with turnover of staff, retirements, and location moves.
Bring together a diverse team of people affiliated with your organization (past and present) for brainstorming and to help you build a number of reasons to celebrate. Include board members and staff, long-time volunteers, donors and community partners - to give you a complete picture of your organization’s history and accomplishments.
Begin by making a thorough list of current activities, programs, events, donors and partners. Think creatively about existing opportunities. This allows you to leverage resources you are already putting to use. Questions you might ask include:
- How long has a popular program been in existence?
- Do we have a “1,000th customer served”?
- Has our organization been influential in encouraging the passage of significant legislation that has had a positive impact on other groups?
- Is there an anniversary of a founder or long-time leader we can celebrate?
- Is there an anniversary of a grant we are receiving? Can we celebrate our long relationship with the grantor? Do we have data to list what has been achieved with the grant?
- Can we organize an event to honor a long-time donor supportive of our work?
Visibility tactics – making sure your milestones get noticed
There are just as many strategies for leveraging a milestone as there are milestones to celebrate. You do not need an elaborate communications strategy to highlight the impact of various milestones on your agency, partners and constituents. But it is important to consider tactics that will give your organization the visibility that a milestone can bring.
- Consider something more than just a news release. A follow up phone call (or two or three) to your local paper is essential. The personal touch often works, especially if your news release is concise and informative so that it may be used with minimal revision.
- Consider writing and submitting an article to the newsletters or trade journals that cover your field.
- Update your Web site with a timeline of successes.
- Organize a service day to commemorate a program.
- Feature an anniversary in your own communications – newsletter, annual report, mailings.
- Ask a key funder or corporate partner to host a small coffee or morning event in support of a milestone.
- Invite a funder or corporate partner to sponsor print or media advertisements to mark the occasion, offering visibility for your organization as well as visibility for the partner’s support of your success.
Coordinating milestone activities is a big responsibility – one that is often added to the already full plates of staff or dedicated volunteers. Thoughtful planning can help focus your team’s efforts on leveraging your milestones. Planning encourages ownership on a variety of levels and it is important to include stakeholders at every stage of the process.
Milestones are a chance to examine and celebrate what makes your nonprofit organization unique, successful and worthy of continued support. Be creative, be realistic and be proud of your accomplishments – big and small.
About Blue Grotto Inc.
Blue Grotto Inc. specializes in anniversary planning, organizational culture research, analysis and communications. Founder Yvonne Hundshamer 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 a CASE 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 more information
For specific project examples and demonstrations, or more information on interactive displays, digital messaging systems and integrated donor wall projects, please contact Planned Legacy.