Advice for making the most of your organization’s birthday

The nonprofit organization for which I serve as board chair turns 40 this year and that has me on the hunt for advice about how to make the most of an anniversary celebration. Okay, four decades of ministry outreach isn’t Guinness World Records material. But we’re proud of how far the organization has come. Now seems as good a time as 50 years or 100 to throw a party, we’ve told ourselves.


And not simply for the sake of a good time, although there’s nothing wrong with fun. Anniversary celebrations come with wonderfully useful side benefits, and wise leaders make the most of every last one.

So advises  Judith Rodin in Harvard Business Review.  She’s the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which turns 100 this year. (You can believe there’s a major shindig in the works over at the foundation.)

If there’s an anniversary in your organization’s near future, you’ll want to read Rodin’s article for yourself. In the meantime, here’s what I plan to take to my boardroom.


Rodin suggests that the pride and unity an anniversary celebration inspires “makes it an ideal time to ask people to think together about why their work matters and how it should move forward.”  But don’t limit the conversation to the those who draw a paycheck. Include board members (past and present), other volunteers, donors, and community friends in the conversation.

In the case of younger organizations like the one with which I’m associated, there are likely folks who’ve been with you from the beginning. A well-thought out anniversary calendar includes opportunities for thanking longtime friends for their faithfulness and generosity, along with inviting their continued financial commitment to the mission. There’s no happenstance in the number of fundraising campaigns coinciding with organizational anniversaries.

At their best, anniversary celebrations are about looking ahead as much as looking back — a year-long conversation about how the organization got to where it is and where it’s headed next.  In Rodin’s words, “Recognizing trends through your history helps you anticipate new challenges you will face. . . Imbue your commemoration with the understanding that looking back can be more than mere nostalgia for the past. It can inform a whole body of work for the future.”

Here, again, there’s value in taking the conversation beyond the board and senior staff.  One way to build buzz about an organization’s future is to invite loyal friends to tell stories of God’s blessing on the work in years past. Another is to encourage statements of anticipation and hope for ministry yet to come.

For greatest benefit, the storytelling and future-casting should span every possible venue – print materials, special events, seminars and symposia, the organization’s website, and interactive social media platforms. And don’t worry that all the crowing about organizational achievements and dreams will offend. The public expects/tolerates braggadociousness during an anniversary year.

As Rodin tells us, “An anniversary is an opportunity not to be wasted,” be it 40 years (as is the organization I serve) or 100 (as is hers).

So break out the confetti. Gather your friends. Make the most of the milestone. Your organization will never pass this way again.


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