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Celebrating Anniversaries: Start Early, Win Big - 3/27/2012 -

If you’re looking for some ideas on how to celebrate an association anniversary, the story behind the 75th anniversary of AAOS is a rich resource.

By Cecilia Sepp

About nine years ago, Sandy Gordon, director of public relations for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), was given an assignment that turned into an unexpected delight: the planning and execution of the AAOS’s 75th anniversary.

She had no plan and no budget. What she did have was four years’ advance notice to create what became not only a celebration of the association’s lifetime, but also a retrospective of the specialty and a focus on the patients its practitioners have helped.

When talking about the project, in which she takes immense pride and professional satisfaction, Gordon laughs a little. "While we had a four-year planning phase leading to the launch at the annual meeting, projects are still going on. It’s the longest anniversary in the history of mankind!”

Gordon says her first concern was budget, noting that often complex projects like anniversary celebrations are done on a shoestring. So, she took a different approach to having no budget: Gordon did some fundraising. "I worked with our president and CEO on the budget issue, developing cost estimates for individual programs and then a plan for how we would raise the money,” she says. "My approach was to offer a menu of projects that were all part of the overall 75th anniversary celebration. After that, I created a project book outlining all the options, and then visited with representatives from orthopedics companies to discuss the sponsorship opportunities.”

In her menu of projects, Gordon also offered levels of support—Diamond, Gold, Silver, and Bronze—in case a company wanted to support the overall project with a donation of money rather than supporting a specific piece of the project. Most importantly, she made the project interesting and exciting for the potential donors, and they responded with enthusiasm.

Her final anniversary project budget? $2.2 million.

"In the end, no one said ‘no,’” Gordon states. "This is because we gave a vision of how it would benefit them by being part of the celebration. Showing how the project benefited the donor and the AAOS, we created excitement and engagement. This allowed us to raise the money for the projects we wanted to do and then to do them really well,” she explains.

Initially, the AAOS 75th Anniversary Celebration had 11 separate projects, including a book, website, film, art show, traveling exhibit, historical interviews with leaders in the profession, a three-dimensional piece of historical art, and a digital timeline.

Eventually, a 12th project was added when it turned out there was still money in the budget. Looking for new and inspiring ways to tell the story of orthopedics, Gordon organized the Wounded in Action art exhibition. The show featured art works by wounded warriors and their families and the orthopaedic surgeons who treat them. "The art exhibit supported our theme of what orthopedics brings to the world,” Gordon says. "Our doctors help heal patients and get them back in motion.”

The art show was extremely successfully, travelling on the road for 2 ½ years across the United States. It was featured in The New York Times and had showings at Walter Reed Army Hospital and the Russell Senate Office Building Rotunda in Washington, DC as well as in the Chicago Cultural Center. "Many of the pieces were sold; the ones that weren’t will be returned to the artists,” Gordon says.

The Logistics Piece

Obviously, a project of this scope requires is a tremendous undertaking, from fundraising to concept to execution. Gordon says the association used outside resources on some of the projects to capture the needed expertise. For example, the coffee table book and film about the history of orthopedics was created with help from a full-service video production company. The firm also helped with the traveling exhibit and worked with the association on the website and digital timeline development, she says.

Another part of the project created with outside assistance is a three-dimensional art piece showing the history of orthopedics. Called "Academy Chronicles,” it is now on display in the AAOS lobby. The entire piece took two years to develop. All the orthopedic specialty association logos are on display along with the artifacts from the AAOS collection. There is also a timeline for each AAOS president that includes highlights of each year. People who visit the AAOS headquarters continue to marvel at this presentation of the history of orthopedics seen through the AAOS lens.

A public service program was also created with the assistance of an outside vendor. "Working with vendors doesn’t mean that you say ‘go do it,’” she notes. "You still are intimately involved in the project so it pays to have good vendors.”

Having a wonderful staff to help with everything is also essential, Gordon adds. For example, in-house staff played a big role in developing parts of the anniversary celebration. AAOS staff organized the art exhibits, the exhibit books, and the calendar. Getting It Straight: A History of American Orthopedics, a book written by a member, was edited and produced by the association’s in-house publications department.

Worth the Work?

In the end, Gordon says the biggest payoff was messages from members like "You make me so proud to be an orthopedic surgeon.” And, all the companies that supported the project were "thrilled” with the result, she adds.

For Gordon personally, the project was a highlight of her career. "It was exciting to work on, and it lives on and continues to generate ideas for me. The best part of this opportunity was being able to be creative and to have the freedom to think about things you could do that don’t usually get done.

"The members were really engaged,” she continues. "Everything was better because so many people got involved and shared their ideas. Staff partnered with members, vendors, and industry, and we created something special. Everyone was thrilled to work on it. And when your members are thrilled, you know you did something good.”

Sandy’s Advice for Planning an Association Anniversary

1. Talk with other people who have done an anniversary project.

2. Look at other people’s ideas and see how you can make them your own.

3. Be creative! Look at what your association is about and how it contributes to society.

4. Make a budget; decide if you need to conduct fundraising.

5. If you do need to fundraise, who are your best donor prospects?

6. Make a plan that includes timeline, resources, audiences, metrics—just like any other project.

7. Conduct as much research as possible before you start.

8. Make your members feel proud of their association and involvement.

(Editor’s note: AAOS won 53 awards for their 75th Anniversary project, including ASAE Communication Section Council’s Choice Award; the Clio Health Care Award; the Pegasus Award: Best in Show for the movie; and the Standard of Excellence Award from the Web Marketing Association for the website.)

Cecilia Sepp is vice president of Association Laboratory Inc. and a member of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee. Don’t miss an upcoming feature article on celebrating association anniversaries in the next issue of Signature magazine.


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