Just because your nonprofit refreshed its brand doesn’t mean that it should change its name. Most often, we counsel our clients against changing their organization’s name. Even a less-than-perfect name elicits memories and meaning within the communities in which you work — that’s valuable brand equity.
Some nonprofits have reached an inflection point, however, where they realize their name no longer serves the best interest of the organization nor its brand. For those organizations, undertaking a renaming process may be the best option.
That doesn’t mean that facing down a name change won’t feel overwhelming. If your organization is in this position, read on to discover some of the valuable lessons our clients have learned about how to navigate a name change successfully.
1. Be Inclusive
Name changes should not be closed-door decisions.
Inviting people to participate in the criteria for selection — and even the brainstorming — helps to get everyone on the same page. If everyone feels part of the process, they’re more likely to support the result.
2. Pick an Arbiter
From the start, be clear with everyone involved about who will make the final decision.
There will come a time when everyone’s opinions will be aired and taken into consideration. Once that’s done, someone will have to weigh opinions, judge the competing factors, and make the final call. If you have no better choice, a team of two arbiters can work — but more than two is asking for trouble.
3. Remember Your Audiences
Whatever name you choose will let other people know who you are as an organization. For this reason, the signals it sends must feel authentic and not unrealistically aspirational.
And remember: while your personal opinions are important, if a new name doesn’t work for the people you need to engage to succeed in your mission, then it doesn’t work.
Your new name must inspire your audiences, first and foremost. Put yourself in the mindset of those you serve, your donors, and your volunteers. Evaluate possible names through their perspectives rather than your own.
4. Rely on Your Brand
Not everyone will love your new name, particularly at first.
Take negative feedback as an opportunity to speak with skeptics about the name you chose and why you chose it — because it best suits your brand. This is your chance to shine a light on the strategic rigor you brought to selecting your new name and developing your band.
Doing this will often convert a naysayer into a brand advocate.
5. Set a Schedule
You don’t want to rush a name change. You need time to get your internal stakeholders on board, and time to reflect. That said, you also don’t want to overthink it. At some point, you have to make a decision and step boldly and confidently into using your new name.
Set yourself a reasonable schedule and stick to it.
6. Prepare for the Transition
I have a friend who changed her name in her 30s. Overnight.
Imagine if your friend decided to change her name one day. You’d sit up and take notice (That’s what we want a new name to do for you!). You might even wonder why she made the switch and stumble over the new name a few times. Soon enough, however, you’d see she was still your same old friend — just with a new name. Any feeling of weirdness would dissipate.
The same holds true for your organization. The clients we’ve served, every one of them, couldn’t imagine going back to their old name once they successfully made the transition. They all recognize that they are stronger for making the change.
To help ease some of your qualms concerning renaming, we’ve compiled a set of case studies that showcase clients who have navigated the name-changing process to their benefit.
And, if you’re a nonprofit who changed your name, we’d love to hear from you. What lessons did you learn?
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.