celebrating a nonprofit anniversary

What to do with an anniversary book, Part 2: Nonprofits

In my first post in this series, I focused on anniversary books for universities—why they matter for an anniversary celebration and how to use them as a complement to other anniversary projects and events. 

Nonprofit anniversaries are very different, though. Because a nonprofit relies on outside donors to fund all projects, it must strike a careful balance between showcasing the organization’s legacy and its donors, and spending too much donor money on a project that is not seen as mission-specific. When we work with nonprofits, we often start at this juncture: what kind of book will meet the needs of the celebration and honor supporters while making the best possible use of anniversary funds.

The key to achieving both is to think of an anniversary book as more than a one-time thank you gift. A book should be used in outreach and fundraising and can even be used for recruitment and mission development.

Here are some ideas:

1. Thank you gift. This is the starting place for any anniversary book. Donors give time and money and honoring their support is critical to your mission. Some nonprofits will give a book free-of-charge to all donors, while some only give to top donors—this is your choice. Remember that your book should underscore who you are and what you do and remind your donors why they support you. People donate to nonprofits because there is an emotional return-on-investment—we love feeling like we can make a difference. A book gives you an opportunity to rekindle these feelings.

2. Fundraising gift. Books make excellent gifts in fundraising campaigns. The value of a book increases dramatically when tied to a fundraising campaign, and you will earn well beyond the unit cost of the book in donations. If you plan on using your anniversary book in this way, though, it needs to be a high-quality book. A cheap book may optimize your per-unit return, but it doesn’t set you up well for the following year.

Jan Thrope’s book, InnerVisions: Grassroots Stories of Truth and Hope, celebrates the difficult but worthwhile work happening in Cleveland, Ohio. Thrope often gives this book to area nonprofits so that they can in turn use it as a fundraising tool.

3. Outreach collateral. Books are great conversation starters. When meeting with organizations that may partner with you or support you financially, a book serves as a high-quality leave-behind. A book can tell your story in more depth than a meeting ever will and it will stick around their office longer. They may throw out your pamphlets, but they will hold onto your book.

A great example of this is the book we created for the Clinton County Foundation. The book celebrates the people and places of Clinton County and it’s given to elected officials, media, businesses, local leaders, and others. It reminds visitors and community members alike that Clinton County is more than a place, it’s a community of people with lives and histories and dreams. It’s a powerful leave-behind.

4. Talent recruitment. Finding employees who believe in your mission is crucial to building a successful organization. People are drawn to organizations where they feel like they fit in, where they are valued, where they can see themselves making a difference. A book can engage potential employees with your history and identity in a way that an application can’t.

5. Mission development. This is an extension of recruitment. When employees feel engaged with the history and successes of an organization—even those successes they weren’t around to witness or take part in—they feel more engaged with the mission. A book celebrating your organization’s legacy can help your employees feel pride in your organization’s accomplishment and fuel their drive to build on your successes.

While not an anniversary book, the book we published for Ronald McDonald House Charities was used to highlight the history and mission of the organization. It showcased in a unique coffee-table book form (the front cover opened like doors) all of the Ronald McDonald Houses around the world. It was given to each house as a display item, so that visiting supporters could see the international impact of the organization, families could feel part of something bigger, and employees could see the breadth and depth of the organization they were working for.

An anniversary book is as useful as you make it. It can languish in a warehouse to be pulled out for the occasional thank you gift, or it can become a central part of your storytelling and outreach. The former will make your book a waste of valuable donor funds, while the latter will make your book a critical part of your mission.