Historical Anniversaries – Brainstorming

Historical Anniversaries – Brainstorming
In 2007 the McKinley National Memorial in Canton, Ohio celebrated its 100th anniversary with a year of special events. In this special series of articles we will explore the planning that went into an exhibition, behind-the scenes tours, an anniversary dinner, a penny campaign and a major special event – a 100 Hours Celebration where the museum stayed open for 100 consecutive hours!

A historical anniversary doesn’t just sneak up on you. You have plenty of time to plan a series of events or even one major event to commemorate your historical anniversary. So start thinking about it NOW!

What to celebrate?

Begin by mapping out the next five to ten years at your museum.

What interesting anniversaries can you celebrate? Is there a business/farm/historic house that is about to celebrate an anniversary? What historic events took place in your town? What national events tie into your local history? Was anything invented there? What about the anniversary of the founding of your museum? Or the year a new wing was added? Or the anniversary of your township, city, county or state?

There are lots of reasons to celebrate. Figure out what is unique about your site and make it happen!

When to celebrate?

It is usually best to celebrate a logical number anniversary, such as 25, 50, 75 or 100 years. But you could go with something quirky, if a number is specific to your site. Maybe someone planted 46 apple trees on your property 46 years ago. Or maybe the major interstate through your area was built 52 years ago and it happens to be Route 52.

Again, look for unique connections in your own area. They’ve been there all along, you just haven’t been looking for them!


Decide right away if you want your event to raise money or make friends. Remember, increasing your visibility in the community can lead to good things down the line – increased admissions, public awareness for collection building, and fundraising for future events.

Once you’ve defined what it is you are celebrating, decide what funds you need to make it happen. Consider all angles. What seed money do you need for marketing – printing flyers or invitations, purchasing ad space or air time, creating a special logo for the event? What costs will you have up front? Will you have to pay speakers, entertainers or caterers? Will you need to hire security or pay extra staff? Think of every possible expense and set your goals accordingly. Ideally, admission money will be all profit. Or perhaps you want to offer a “free” day which will be paid for by your sponsorships.

After you have made your specific plans, go out and find some sponsors! In this economy, it can be tough. Since many businesses are struggling, don’t overlook individuals. If your membership program has higher levels, that is a great place to start! You also might want to ask people who have donated money in the past. But be sure not to go to the same well too often!

Offer sponsorship packages with various levels and specific benefits. For example, at our museum we often use the levels Presidential, Gubernatorial and Congressional, because President McKinley was all of those things. Will sponsors get tickets to your major events? If so, how many? Will the receive a special listing in your publications, promotional materials or signage? A membership? A free gift from the Museum Shoppe?

Make the package attractive, but keep costs down too. Remember, extravagant complimentary gifts eat into sponsorship profits.

The next articles in this series will document how my museum celebrated the 100th anniversary of the McKinley National Memorial in 2007.

You Should Also Read:
Planning Special Events
Tough Times for Museums
Museum Collaborations

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This content was written by Kim Kenney. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Kim Kenney for details.