How to Turn a Memory Into Support

Your Profitable Nonprofit

By Karen Eber Davis

Are you unforgettable? More important, is your nonprofit on the lips of thousands at least once per year? You can help people to remember you by creating a ritual that remembers and celebrates your work. Each month, this column explores remarkable ideas that nonprofits are using to increase their income and reach. This month we study Persons Day, a day familiar to Canadians but little known south of the border.

This Month’s Strategy

In Canada, every October 18th thousands of people gather in 13 cities to celebrate Persons Day. The festivities celebrate the Famous Five (Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy and Irene Parlby) who won a hard-fought victory in the Supreme Court of Canada and the British Privy Council. From that 1918 date forward, women were considered persons under the law. Several groups sponsor Persons Day events, including The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund and The Canadian Voters Congress. In Winnipeg, one Persons Day event draws 1,000 people.

Unpacking Persons Day’s Strategies

What fundamentals create this strategy? Here I slow down to unpack the strategy and identify some of its components so you can adapt it to benefit your nonprofit. Use the following as a checklist as you consider different adaptations:

  • The strategy re-celebrates a victory otherwise easily forgotten.
  • The strategy helps people to remember, appreciate, and notice progress on a continuing journey.
  • The strategy brings people together around your work.
  • The strategy can positively impact your income, resources, and status.

What This Strategy Is Not

The Persons Day strategy is not just another event. Instead, it is a ritual that helps people put things in perspective. It helps them to remember the past, recognize the present, and glimpse ahead to the future. The strategy invites reflection.

How Can You Use This Strategy?

1. Identify an event, turning point, or person that uniquely represents your nonprofit. Check if a day or event already exists for your cause that you can capitalize upon. Search for “commemorative days” on the Internet.

2. Create A Ritual. Help people to remember. As a child, did you have assemblies for Arbor Day, Flag Day, or Thanksgiving? My classmates and I shivered around a newly planted tree on Arbor Day. Teachers and students recited the pledge of allegiance, listened to tree poems, and sang a song. As I quivered, I marveled at the older trees around me ready to leaf out in the Connecticut spring. I wondered how the newly planted sapling might join their huge older counterparts in time. In the bustle of our lives, rituals give people a place to stand to reflect and see anew. They offer wonder and perspective. Offer your community a chance to remember your work and your cause by creating a ritual around it.

3. Start Small. For instance, this year, announce a new holiday and tweet it. Next year, celebrate with a coffee at your worksite. Invite a dozen people whom you want to meet. Year three, celebrate with a small ceremony at an art gallery featuring an exhibit related to your cause. Here is another example of how to start small. A group celebrates their Founder’s birthday with an opening ceremony outside their facility. The doors are locked for fifteen minutes for a remembering ceremony.

4. Setting. Consider the setting for your celebrations. Where might they be done? At your site? Virtually? Privately? In a public venue? Every December, Compassionate Friends backs the Worldwide Candle Lighting. Over time, the Lighting includes a mixture of both public and private remembrances.

5. Results. Plan how the celebration will serve your nonprofit. Don’t make the event stand alone — give it some context. In resource-strapped nonprofits, as many actions as possible need to do double or even triple duty. How will you connect the remembrance to your other strategies? What will people learn? Remember? How can you involve the media? Will you use the event to support your income needs? During most worship services, it is a common ritual for the plate to be passed for donations. Will you earn mission income from ticket sales? Ask for donations at the event? Or will you follow-up with mail ask to all participants? This is not being mercenary. It’s being smart. The Association of Fundraising Professionals Philanthropy Day is celebrated each November with luncheons and educational events across North America. One chapter recently made $40,000 on the luncheon. Maximize your results. Plan for money and more.

6. Build. Instead of starting new each year, make your celebration an annual occasion. Create momentum. Build on past success so your marketing efforts serve to remind, not introduce. Consider new low-labor intensity elements. Switch out tired or unsuccessful efforts and fine-tune your celebrations.

George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Today’s column explored how nonprofits create rituals around important events to build community, support their income development, and help people to remember. Persons Day represents a ritual of remembering and looking to the future with hope. It recognizes the work done and the work to do. It celebrates progress. We need rituals in our lives. Your nonprofit can create one around your cause to help you be a profitable nonprofit.  Next month in Your Profitable Nonprofit, we will explore how to create partnerships to help your nonprofit be seen differently by the community.