By Kari Evans
Executive Director, Bicentennial
University of Virginia & Milestone Master with Anniversary University®
Kari Evans was a key speaker at The Anniversary Forum in 2019 and is a Milestone Master with Anniversary University conducting Anniversary Visioning Workshops.
Institutional anniversaries offer a unique opportunity to engage and connect with people attached to, or who feel an affinity for, your organization, brand, or mission. Creating meaningful roles throughout the planning and implementation of a milestone celebration can bring these individuals closer to the institution, fostering and enriching relationships which when stewarded well, can result in assistance facilitated programming, shared messaging, and advocating for the future.
For non-profit organizations this deepens connections, which may translate into future volunteer efforts or financial support. Naturally, efforts to engage audiences occur at any time, but milestones, like a centennial or bicentennial, are touchpoints for stakeholders that encourage reflection, connection, and aspiration.
When considering stakeholders to invite to collaborate or contribute to your milestone anniversary celebration, focus on what, when, and who.
Their role must be relevant and meaningful. Whether a corporation or non-profit organization, if you ask someone to join an effort, be prepared! Know what you need at each stage of planning and implementation and be thoughtful about what you ask of each stakeholder. Do you want advice, advocacy, or active participation?
- Advice – to engage stakeholders in an advisory capacity, create opportunities to share ideas and solicit feedback. This could include creating an advisory board, administering a survey, conducting social media outreach, hosting brainstorming parties and town hall-style conversations. Advice could be sought on goals and objectives for the anniversary, collaborative partnerships, and feedback on germinating programming efforts as well as suggestions for creative new ideas.
- Advocacy – if the intent is for stakeholders to advocate on behalf of your organization or anniversary celebration, consider first what you need. Perhaps your commemorative effort needs a champion to spread the message, secure funding, or represent your organization’s interests with local government, the media (earned, paid, or social), or the community? Be explicit with the end goal and ensure your stakeholder is well versed in the institution’s mission as well as the goals and objectives of the milestone commemoration.
- Active participation – the staff dedicated fulltime to a milestone celebration may be small. Therefore, to sustain months or even years of programming, you will need partners to assist with coordination. Invite colleagues across the organization to host programs, build upon existing efforts that peers have underway, which can be rebranded, and a create a menu of options enabling stakeholders to “own” as aspect of the anniversary.
Timing is, as they say, everything. The purpose of stakeholder involvement will drive timing. Advice may be needed early in the process, when the goals and objectives of the milestone, as well as the scope of programming, are still being formed. When goals have been defined, organizational leadership will be committed to move forward. When the plans are in place, advocates and active participants are needed to secure funding, spread the message to the community, and begin implementation.
Finally, take advantage of different audiences throughout your planning and execution stages. Some may be obvious. At a university, this includes faculty, staff, students, as well as alumni, parents, and community members. But this is also an opportunity to reach new audiences. There may be individuals who are not yet vested in your organization but who are a natural fit. Consider institutions with similar missions who can partner on distinctive programs during the anniversary. If there is specific research or subjects for which your institution is revered, find individuals who share that passion and tap into new opportunities to collaborate. Be open to an unusual alliance; unconventional partners may evolve into new stakeholders by the end of your milestone celebration!
By involving stakeholders across the scope of your anniversary, you can widen the reach and impact of the commemoration, develop creative new ideas not conceived by the core administrators of the celebration, and ultimately, deepen individual connections to the institution into the future.