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The Functions of Commemorative Histories

Gathering decades – or even a century – of data and anecdotes, conducting oral histories and researching archival photography to document an organization’s history is a time-consuming, involved process. However, many organizations and associations undertake these projects every year. Why? What value is derived from creating a commemorative book? What purpose and function does it serve?

The most obvious purpose of an anniversary book is to document an organization’s history. However, the deeper and more engaging questions include, “Why do we want to document our history in the first place? How will recording the past serve our organization going forward? And, how will the production of a commemorative history help us achieve our strategic goals?” The answers to these questions depends on numerous factors, including the type of organization, the make-up of its people, its longevity, as well as geographic location. Typical reasons for completing a commemorative book include:

  • Preserving history for posterity.
  • Celebrating and honoring the organization’s “trailblazers.”
  • Demonstrating the leadership of the organization over time.
  • Illustrating the benefits that a relationship with the organization brings to the individual over time both professionally and personally.
  • Educating constituents about the evolution of the organization and the changes it has wrought in itself and the community at large.
  • Soliciting potential donors by illustrating the organization’s intrinsic value.
  • Honoring donors, volunteers and others on behalf of the organization.
  • Carrying on the organization’s legacy.

Commemorative books serve multiple purposes, as each individual organization has its own objectives. No two organizations – or commemorative books – are identical. The history should reflect, through literate text, imagery and style – the unique character of that particular entity. An entity’s driving goals for producing a book will ultimately determine the budget, whom to interview, types of images to collect and/or shoot, as well as the book’s physical size, shape and feel – in other words, the overall scope of the project.

Determining if a limited edition, customized history is right for your organization can be challenging. Figuring out the goals of such a project can be even more so, but it doesn’t have to be daunting. Just ask yourself these questions:

  • Do we want to tell meaningful stories of a bygone era? If so, why?
  • Will the book be used as a marketing tool? A gift?
  • Do we want the book to be used as a vehicle to bring new members or families through the front door while increasing the bottom line?

To help you in your process, look for these future posts:

  • Examples of commemorative histories that serve different functions.
  • Determining the process and look of your work once your goals are set.
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