Around the world, organizations like CHPL, MRCD, and PoRUG are rejoicing. NPR and the Y have officially adopted shortened versions of their old names (National Public Radio and YMCA). Does that signal to the rest of the nonprofit world that they should follow suit?
Most nonprofit organizations face an uphill battle to be known and understood by their most important audiences. Using initials or an acronym presents a barrier to understanding who you are and what you do.
Take BayCES, for example, an organization that believes every child has a right to a quality education. The name was understood only by insiders and ardent supporters. Every introduction required an explanation, which hampered the organization’s ability to achieve its mission.
With Mission Minded’s help BayCES has renamed itself National Equity Project. The full name explains who they are and what they do — they are an organization dedicated to ensuring an equitable education for every student in the country. And, they have resisted the urge to shorten the name to NEP. Doing so would only serve to obfuscate their important work.
Even major national nonprofit brands face this challenge. Ask yourself this: Which organization would I rather support, the SPCA or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals? Which name paints a picture and has punch?
So Why Can They Do It?
NPR and the Y are special cases. For NPR, the three letter abbreviation is a standard practice in the world broadcast journalism. NPR isn’t competing with other nonprofits for attention; it’s competing with CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC and FOX for market share.
More importantly, NPR owns the airwaves. Most nonprofits have only a few opportunities to get people to know and understand their name. NPR can remind its listeners many times a day what the NPR brand stands for.
For the Y, the organization has had more than a century to build brand awareness for its shortened name. It is one of the best-known nonprofit brands in the world, and as such can marshal the resources needed to make such a move. Additionally, the original name is now so irrelevant that it’s comical. If being a young male Christian were still a litmus test for membership, the organization would lose most of its clientele.
So What to Do?
Choose a name with meaning and stick with it. If you need to shorten it, let the shortened name have meaning too. This means that an organization like American Heart Association should use its full name whenever possible and shorten it to “Heart” in casual conversation, rather than as “AHA.” The result will be greater understanding and support for the organization’s mission.