Anniversaries, Milestones, and Celebrations: Reengaging Alumni and Donors

Anne Derber
January 2021
Family night in the dining hall

Are you coming up on an anniversary or milestone in your camp’s history? Have you considered how this celebration can help you connect with alumni and maybe even raise some money? Whether you have a strong financial development history or you would like to build one, an alumni event celebrating significant milestones is an excellent way to turn fond memories into a deeper connection with the future of your camp.

Many camps lack a development history, much less a culture of philanthropy. If you are one of those camps with very little data on your alumni or their history of giving, don’t despair. An anniversary celebration event is a great opportunity to start the process. And if your camp does have a strong culture of philanthropy, a significant alumni event can be an excellent way to round out a major campaign and secure the strong foundation established through your previous efforts.

Event Framework

First, work with staff and volunteers to make the decisions that will form the framework of your event:

Set the date.

Internally, start your planning at least two years out, if possible. Select a date for your big event and share it with your camp community at least one year in advance. As you choose a date, think about your camp calendar, the availability of staff, and the impact on your camp’s surrounding community.

Weigh considerations and make key decisions early. 

  • Do alumni stay at camp? 
  • What are the areas of camp that people will want to visit? 
  • What programs will be offered? 
  • Will you serve alcohol? 
  • What shape is the facility in? 
  • How many days will your event last? 

Set clear expectations with limited exceptions.

Identify staffing needs. 

  • Do you need to hire an event coordinator and, if so, when should they start? 
  • Will you need to keep summer staff on? 
  • How many volunteers will you need?

Develop a budget. 

  • Will you seek donations to offset the costs? 
  • Will you charge for the event?

Plan your promotion efforts.

  • What social  media outlets will you use?
  • Will you mail promotional materials?
  • How will you advertise on your camp’s website?

Involving Key Audiences

As you dream and develop your plans, incorporate your camp traditions and activities. For example, if canoeing is an important activity for your camp, properly staff the waterfront and create opportunities for event attendees to go paddling. Music is incredibly important. Make sure to sing songs from all generations of camp. If chapel is an important tradition, incorporate it into your celebrations. 

Presentations and speakers should be kept short. Alumni will mostly want to revisit their memories and reconnect with old friends. 

Don’t overlook the challenges older alumni may face. They may worry that they won’t know anyone. They may not be physically able to walk around camp like they used to. Create an event at the beginning especially for them. They can meet up with friends from their generation of alumni and hear from the director. And don’t forget to have lots of golf carts on hand.

If you have a board of directors and/or alumni council, engage them early in the planning. They can serve as your ambassadors, resources, and, potentially, funders. 

Consider the kinds of committees you want to have, among others: 

  • Overseeing social media and promotion 
  • Organizing volunteers
  • Leading tours
  • Preparing camp for the events

While staff will have a large role to play, there are connections only your volunteers can create.

Find a way to involve your local community in the event. An occasion like this can mean business for local hotels and restaurants. Give the Chamber of Commerce and related businesses a heads up so they can plan. Parking is often a challenge for events held at camp. If that will be the case for you, work with your community to utilize space in town for parking and have shuttle vans and drivers transport people to and from camp. 

Fundraising Considerations

If you are considering kicking off your fundraising plans with a milestone event, developing a fundraising plan and case for support is your first step. The case will explain why it is important for your camp to raise money, which goes beyond needing that new dining hall or an additional cabin. It is more about the personal impact of that new dining hall or cabin on the campers and program. A strong case will draw people closer to camp and inspire them to take action on your behalf.

Visiting with alums during the event is important. The director should not be leading any activities but talking with alumni through the whole event. Not only will you get your daily steps in, you will be sharing your story and laying the groundwork for future asks and fundraising opportunities.

In many cases, camps leverage a milestone event to begin or end a fundraising campaign. If you are ending your campaign with this event, carve out time and space to honor and thank your donors. 

Wrapping Up

When the event is over and the tables have been put away, it’s time to build on all that good work. There are thank-you notes to write and donor databases to update. Your next milestone event isn’t that far away!

Not coming up on a major anniversary? There is always something to celebrate at camp. Consider the following:

  • The anniversary of your girls’ camp or other programmatic milestone 
  • Dedication of buildings or property
  • Anniversary celebrations every five years to keep alumni engaged with camp and with each other
  • Regional alumni gatherings throughout the country that can lead up to a milestone event

Anne S. Derber recently retired from Camp Manito-wish YMCA after serving as CEO for 19 years. Camp Manito-wish YCMA celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2018. More than 2,000 alumni attended the weekend event with alums coming from all over the world. Anne currently serves as vice chair for the ACA National Board and senior consultant for the DBD Group and volunteers for local organizations. Anne can be reached at anne.derber@outlook.com.

Photo courtesy of Camp Manito-wish YMCA, Boulder Junction, Wisconsin. 


Quest Diagnostics
Commercial Recreation Specialists ad