When they need a name change, our clients partner with us to guide them through the process. Changing a nonprofit’s name is one of the most invigorating efforts an organization’s leaders can undertake. When a name no longer serves your organization—or worse, leads to confusion—a change absolutely must be made.
We understand that a name change is an important milestone for your nonprofit, so we’re sharing five tips to ensure that your new name, if you’re ready and brave enough to make a change, will hit the mark.
Naming is hard. It requires reflection and commitment from a nonprofit’s leadership team. That said, nothing offers greater opportunity for breathing new life into an established organization or cementing the vision of a new one.
Here are five things you can do to help your nonprofit’s new name hit the mark:
- Ground your name in your brand. Everyone at your organization must clearly understand who you are, what you do, and why it matters before your team can evaluate potential names. Take the time to reach consensus on the brand—or reputation—you want your organization to have, so you can determine what kind of name you need.
- Set clear criteria for what your name should do—before you begin. Does it need to sound less clinical? Communicate the national scope of your work? Reinforce your position as a leader? Your ground rules for success will be a helpful rubric by which to judge contenders.
- Make sure your nonprofit’s new name sends a powerful message. Names are vital signals for cash-strapped nonprofits, so they need to work hard. Unlike the private sector, most nonprofits cannot buy their audiences’ attention through paid media. Make sure that your name is strong and clear, and that it sends a message every time your audience sees or hears it. A name can’t say everything, but make sure it conveys something of your uniqueness or value. We Don’t Waste, an organization that picks up uneaten food from Colorado caterers and redistributes it to local food banks, has a name that sends a powerful message.
- Aim for a name that highlights your impact. It’s unlikely that your audiences will align with your brand based on what you do every day programmatically. Instead, they’re interested in impact—what it means when your nonprofit meets its goals, and how the world is better off because of it. If your name paints a picture of the positive results of your work, it’s a winner.
- Make your name emotional. The relationship your supporters have with you will be based, in large part, on emotion. The mere mention of your name need not make them cry, but if your name is strong, it will make them feel something. When the public feels good about you, they are more likely to proudly tout their support of your work. Have you flaunted your NPR coffee mug lately? Donned your Sierra Club hat? Swung a Humane Society tote bag over your shoulder on your way to the farmers’ market?
To illustrate renaming done right, let’s look at San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance. Initially, this nonprofit focused solely on making San Francisco’s school-grounds greener. (Greener is a feature, but what are the benefits?) As it grew, the organization expanded its focus; it sought to enhance the educational experience of San Francisco kids. (Now that’s a benefit!) Today, it seeks to reformulate the way urban schools nationwide use their outdoor learning spaces.
After we re-articulated the organization’s brand promise—“Advancing public education outdoors”—it became clear that the old name was not as strong as it needed to be. It didn’t align with the brand. It focused on features, not benefits. It sent the wrong message. It lacked emotion.
During the renaming effort, Mission Minded first helped organization leaders articulate a new brand that reflected the organization’s evolution and value to the community. Then, we helped them set criteria for what their new name should accomplish. We worked with them to generate new names that spoke to their most powerful characteristics and outcomes. Their new name was born: Education Outside.
This nonprofit’s new name focuses less on programmatic details (physical schoolyards) and more on impact—holistic learning made more effective through the use of outdoor spaces. We tied the organization’s new name to a new logo and tagline, yielding a splashy new identity that better represents the organization’s mission and meaning.
In just two words, stakeholders now understand the impact of the organization and can proudly align themselves with a nonprofit that supports “Education Outside.”
If your organization is considering a new name, take a look at a few of our other resources to make sure you do it right.
*Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness