Community engagement, Email strategy, Fundraising

Navigating Complex Anniversary Moments

As digital marketing practitioners, we rely heavily on our calendars because they are central to so much of our work – from tentpole moments to holidays to seasonal fundraising pushes. But sometimes an anniversary moment might give us pause amid all the bustle: Perhaps it’s a milestone that is difficult to talk about or one that our supporters don’t tend to get invested in. When weighing how best to mark an anniversary, effective strategy will lie in the particulars, like the audience and the messaging. As you sift through the complexities unique to your organization, these six guidelines will help organize your thoughts.

Consider your audience

From one organization to the next, the common interests and issues that unite an audience can vary greatly, and sometimes those shared investments center naturally around anniversaries. For military-focused nonprofits, for example, an attention to military history is integral to the existing interest that engages supporters toward the organization’s mission – providing a personal connection to donors around some anniversaries. And while one humanitarian aid nonprofit we partner with found its followers did not respond strongly to the organization’s internal anniversary, that same audience rallied behind the anniversary of a humanitarian crisis, reengaging with enthusiasm and support when the organization elevated an issue that had not previously received enough attention.

How can we use these examples to inform our choices? By zooming out to objectively weigh the importance of an anniversary marked internally by your organization against the importance that date will hold for a supporter, you can determine approach and predict response. So if the 25th anniversary of your organization’s work isn’t drumming up support as an email campaign, perhaps the milestone can be more effectively marked with a change in branding.

How well-known is the anniversary?

When honoring an anniversary that is known widely enough to get news attention, external coverage from other sources will naturally amplify the topic, keeping it at the forefront of your supporters’ minds. And for internal anniversaries, promotion from the larger organization can help create a sense of momentum. In either case, you can build up awareness around an approaching anniversary so that messaging on the day itself can simply thread an engagement or donation ask on top of existing, external content that has already made a strong impression.

Marking the dates of tragic events

Inevitably, some organizations built around making positive change in the world can trace their origins to their response to a tragic event. Many military holidays, for instance, are not days to celebrate. Yet one of our military-support partners found its biggest fundraising moments of 2021 centered around the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the 20th anniversary of 9/11, proving that these can be important dates to draw together support and engagement.

When talking about dates associated with a tragic event, the language we use plays a critical role. For one gun violence prevention nonprofit we work with, the word “anniversary” is never used to mark the date of the tragic shooting that the organization was founded in response to, avoiding any implication of celebration inherent in the word.

Anniversaries are useful moments if you have something to say

Outside of the value or interest of the anniversary itself, consider what messaging will be most meaningful to your supporters. Anniversaries can offer a great opportunity to highlight an organization’s impact – sharing success stories and leaving the fundraising ask in a secondary P.S.. They can also be a time to cultivate supporter engagement through strategies like sign-the-card campaigns.

Anniversaries can be difficult to cover when they highlight a lack of progress

Highlighting anniversaries that point out continued inaction or lack of change can be counterproductive. For health-focused relief organizations, the anniversary of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic might be central to their mission; but it’s difficult to look back on a crisis while supporters are still living through it.

What does this mean in practice? Choose the anniversary moments your organization highlights carefully. It’s okay to let a milestone pass if it doesn’t serve your mission.

Consider whether personal stories and surrogate signers will strengthen your message

Under some circumstances, a first-person account or outside voice might spotlight something urgent or moving about an anniversary meaningful to your organization, but a successful approach will vary from one story to the next. For an organization working to support refugees, personal stories are powerful in anniversary moments when told in the institution’s voice – rather than in the first-person voice used for stories centered around recent refugees. For the USO, a military-focused nonprofit we partner with, an outside voice sharing their first-person story from the day before September 11, 2001, in an email that pivots to asking readers to sign a card for service members, yielded high responses and donations from supporters for two years in a row.


If you want to dig deeper into more particulars of the writing process, check out our recent blog post, Five Things to Keep in Mind: Writing Compelling Fundraising Emails. For insights on approaching rapid response from some of the top names in fundraising, take a look at some of the takeaways from our Nonprofit Advisory Board: Know the Drill, Practice the Drill.

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Community engagement, Email strategy, Fundraising, Strategic planning