17 August, 2011
They roll around every year, but of course we only mark the big ones. Charity anniversaries – the 5th, the 10th, 25th, 50th, 100th, and often many others in between – are frequently seized upon by trustees, senior management and communications teams as major opportunities to raise the organisation’s profile. But take a moment to question – how important is it to tell people how old you are? Yes, it adds credibility and gives you the nice weighty feel of experience. It suggests that in some way you must be sustainable. But in the current climate being old doesn’t necessarily equate with being good at what you do. In some people’s minds it could suggest being ‘stuck in your ways’, conservative (note the small c), and risk averse. A lot of focus is now on creativity, flexibility and responsiveness in a changing environment.
None of this means that we shouldn’t be celebrating impressive milestones and marking important dates, of course. But it does pay to take a moment to reflect on the value of an anniversary-linked campaign. A 25th year may well present an opportunity, but it must be an opportunity that has real significance beyond the number. You need to be saying something that brings to life the achievements of those years, that showcases your wisdom and credibility, but that also powerfully demonstrates how you have adapted and are continuing to adapt. You need to be telling people what knowledge you’ve gained, how services have developed and become sustainable, and how you will continue to adapt to meet changing needs.
Really it boils down to the age old ‘so what?’ test. It’s not the fact that you’re 25/50/100 years old. It’s about what you’ve achieved, what you’re doing now, and most importantly what you’re going to be doing in the future. It’s about the difference you’ve made and the difference you’ll make. People won’t donate their time or money, and policy won’t be influenced, by the fact that you are celebrating a birthday and staging a PR stunt to do it. But if you’re talking sense and using your experience to offer up solutions to current problems, then they’ll sit up and take notice.