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March 15, 2014 Dialogue

Celebrate Good Times – Reaching a Milestone

By Kimberly Schmitt

As the Texas Access to Justice Foundation began its 30th anniversary year this year, we faced the many questions that accompany a milestone celebration. What event(s) do we want to have? Should we incorporate fundraising activities in the celebration? How do we recognize the contributions of many outstanding leaders? What makes sense economically?

While each organization must answer these questions for themselves, the best anniversary campaigns help nonprofits connect their past, present, and future and help forge stronger relationships with their supporters.

Here are some examples of recent IOLTA program milestone celebrations from across geographic regions and of programs of various sizes:

  • The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) celebrated its 25th anniversary by creating a slideshow, video and timeline. Following that lead, MLAC celebrated its 30th anniversary in May 2013 with a gala. The event featured, former Solicitor General of the United States, Seth Waxman and honored distinguished individuals, including 30-year legal aid staff.

  • The gala had a modest fundraising goal of covering the event and making enough money to fund a significant project. MLAC did raise enough to cover the event, plus $60,000 to fund a one-year Language Access Fellowship.
  • The Law Foundation of British Columbia, celebrated 45 years on April 1, 2014. The Foundation sponsored a day-long meeting of the 80 Executive Directors of the Continuing Programs that they fund. The meeting was followed by a reception where the leaders of the bar, judiciary, grantees, and past governors attended.
  • Invitations were sent to current and former governors, chairs and executive directors of continuing programs, bench and bar leaders, representatives from banks, and other political figures. Speakers included the Foundation's Chair, the Attorney General, Chief Justice, and Presidents of the bar association and Law Society. Approximately 150 people attend the events and attendees were provided a handout highlighting the history of the Foundation and its good work.

  • The reception cost approximately $7,000. The purpose of the celebration was not to raise funds but to garner a greater appreciation for the Foundation's history, provide a sense of optimism following budget cuts, and broaden and reinforce support for the work of the Foundation.
  • The Montana Justice Foundation (MJF) took a novel approach to recognize its 35th anniversary this year. The Foundation decided to have a Non-Gala event that used a website to take the place of a physical, traditional event.

  • The suggestion originated from a board member; the board subsequently decided the non-gala may be more effective than attempting to bring the vast state together in one location for a physical event.

  • Through a microsite and with the help of social media, the Foundation honored 35 inspiring champions of justice and encouraged donations for the anniversary non-gala.

  • Early results indicate MJF surpassed its $10,000 goal by more than $7,000 and has received donations from several who have never donated before; particularly family members of those they featured as champions. MJF Executive Director Amy Sings in the Timber cautions others considering this route as an 'easy' alternative. She advised programs to expect as much planning and work as one would for an actual event, especially during the first year.
  • Last June, the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois (LTF) celebrated 30 years with a traditional cocktail reception, but made a special effort to get as many former board members to attend as possible.

  • While storms and tornadoes threatened the afternoon of the event, the reception recognized the accomplishments of the organization and the first board president was invited to make remarks. The board surprised longtime Executive Director Ruth Ann Schmitt with a portrait photo and named the office conference room in her honor.

  • LTF also prepared an anniversary piece, that was distributed at the reception and published in the bar magazines. In addition, they took the opportunity to redesign and update their website, to bring it into their new decade.
  • The 25th anniversary of the North Carolina State Bar Plan for IOLTA occurred just as the economic downturn hit; the program decided to forego a big celebration. Instead, they published a three-part series of articles on IOLTA in the State Bar Journal.

  • In addition, the program published an article focusing on the importance of the relationship with North Carolina banks over the years in the NC Bankers Association publication.
  • The Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education's (AZFLSE) anniversary campaign included different forms of media, as well as a celebration event. The Foundation produced a video featuring the foundation and grantees with unique chapters, allowing it to be viewed as one or in segments for each grantee. AZFLSE used print media by asking all past presidents to write a paragraph of memories of their year which was then published in the Arizona Attorney magazine. In addition they hosted a large luncheon honoring founders and invited fellows, past presidents and other supporters to a birthday party.
  • The Texas Access to Justice Foundation kicked-off our 30th year with a panel discussion hosted in conjunction with LSC and the LBJ Presidential Library followed by a reception honoring one of Texas' "fathers" of IOLTA. The Foundation's committee decided the year's events should touch the past, present and future.

No matter how programs choose to celebrate, it's never too early to start planning. A milestone is a great opportunity to show pride for the work accomplished, invigorate those who make it happen, and celebrate the success of all who played a role in the evolution and history of a state's IOLTA program.

    Kimberly Schmitt

    Communications Manager, Texas Access to Justice Foundation

    Kimberly Schmitt is the communications manager at the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. Previously, she managed the Texas Lawyer Referral & Information Service and worked in public information for the State Bar of Texas. She currently serves on the Joint Communications Committee of the ABA Commission on IOLTA and the National Association of IOLTA Programs.