Leveraging anniversary programming & content to nurture community

In this post by CEFP2019 Fellow Camille Santistevan, Associate Director of Public Relations at the Advanced Science Research Center at The Graduate Center, CUNY, she explores how an organization’s anniversary can be an opportunity to nurture community. Camille shares 5 tips for success and 3 potential challenges to anticipate.

Community-first event planning

Is your scientific organization celebrating an anniversary sometime soon? If so, how will you be celebrating?

In the higher education and non-profit sectors, anniversaries are often used to launch major fundraising campaigns. Central leadership, in concert with the development office, tend to spend a lot of time, energy, and resources to organize a big bash for external stakeholders, with the internal community often left as an afterthought.

The ASRC Open House event. Image credit: ASRC.

How can we re-engineer some of this content and programming to supercharge our scientific communities? Below are some ideas both big and small for how community managers can leverage anniversary activities to nurture community. 

1. Think beyond a single event

When you begin determining the goals and target audience of your anniversary programming, chances are high that you won’t be able to achieve everything with a single event.

  • Consider having multiple events and activities over the course of the anniversary year—with at least a few exclusively focused on your internal community. While this might seem like adding more to your plate, it can actually re-energize community members and catalyze participation.
  • Organize a simple community meeting to internally kickoff your anniversary program.
  • Recognize community members who’ve made important contributions and invite everyone to get involved with anniversary planning.

2. Use your anniversary to open and sustain a dialogue about shared values

In addition to celebrating, take some time to reexamine the shared values, mission, and vision of your organization.

  • It’s likely that the anniversary represents a shift in your community’s lifecycle. How has your community evolved? What conversations need to happen to continue making progress towards mission?
  • Can some activities be organized to facilitate a dialogue about organizational culture, rather than focusing exclusively on scientific content?
  • Speak with senior leadership about how anniversary programming can be integrated with your organization’s strategic planning process.

3. Co-create content that celebrates your organization’s major accomplishments

You will likely need to gather lots of information about your organization’s accomplishments to highlight in anniversary-related marketing materials.

  • Ask your community members to help gather key data and provide input on what should be highlighted.
  • Co-create a special anniversary logo and tagline that will be used throughout the year.

4. Share anniversary-related content with your internal community first

  • …and in a visually compelling way, such as an anniversary landing page or an infographic.
  • Encourage your community members to use these resources by creating a communications toolkit that includes graphic treatments, sample social media posts, PowerPoint slides, and organizational boilerplate language.

5. Issue a community survey

  • Solicit ideas for content and programming during the anniversary year by issuing a community survey.
  • When reporting out results, invite community members to get involved by taking on a leadership role in executing some of the more popular ideas.

Anticipating challenges

If you do choose to re-purpose some of your organization’s anniversary programming for internal community building, considering the following challenges that could arise:

1. Funding constraints

  • Expenses can quickly rack up, especially if you’re planning a lot of in-person events. The anniversary planning team will likely have to make some tough decisions based on what resources are available and can be reasonably raised. Consider seeking corporate sponsorship or, if appropriate, applying for conference grants from federal funding agencies, like the National Science Foundation.

2. Reaching consensus

  • How will you handle competing priorities? How will you negotiate areas of focus without alienating other community members? These are especially important questions interdisciplinary research communities. Be sure to have these conversations early on and to clearly define the overarching purpose of major events and activities. If you’re hitting roadblocks here, consider adopting a policy of lazy consensus.

3. Managing workload

You will need to establish a team to make all of this happen!

  • Begin your anniversary planning by taking an inventory of projects you and your teammates have already committed to for the next twelve months. Can those projects be integrated with the anniversary somehow? Can they be postponed? If not, be prepared to swap team members in and out depending on their capacity throughout the year.
  • If you are part of a larger organization, reach out to your central office for support, especially with marketing and communications—these teams are often looking for good content to feature. With enough notice, they may be able to help more than you think!

In conclusion…

Organizing one major anniversary celebration can be daunting enough and adding additional activities and events to nurture community can quickly feel overwhelming. Remember that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. By simply inviting community members to participate and sharing information internally first, you will maximize programming and content that you were likely going to have to create anyway.  

Have you been part of anniversary planning for a scientific community? What tips and tricks do you have to ensure your programming doesn’t only focus on engaging your external stakeholders, but your community members as well? How do you think anniversary planning changes throughout an organization’s lifecycle? Share your thoughts below or connect with me on Twitter.

Suggested Reading

  1. Echo Stories offers 6 Tips for a Successful Anniversary Campaign.
  2. Cause Effective’s Anniversary Campaigns/Special Events Resources page includes sample anniversary plans, budgets, and pre-event evaluation questions.
  3. Wired Impact offers 9 Way to Promote a Nonprofit Anniversary Online.
  4. SMPS Boston has some valuable tips on how leverage anniversary program to build goodwill among internal and external stakeholders, albeit from a corporate perspective.
  5. Neon CRM’s How to Make Most of Your Nonprofit’s Anniversary blog post describes a variety of tactics useful for executing an impactful anniversary promotional campaign.