When our non-profit clients ask us if they should change their organization’s name, our answer is often a surprising, “No.”
While we love working on naming projects, the reality is that even outgrown, awkward, or imperfect names tend to hold enough accumulated value to outweigh the benefits of switching to a new one. This holds particularly true for in the non-profit sector where names are often literal and therefore uninspiring, yet entrenched.
You may worry that people know your organization by its un-ideal name, but be heartened that they know your organization in the first place. Change the name, and you risk having to reintroduce yourself to everyone. Those people who have a longstanding affinity for your organization and its work, and those who have just started to become aware of all you do, will have to labor (at least for a few months) to connect to your new name.
While a solid, strategic communications plan can mitigate the disorientation a name change can cause, they still take a huge toll on non-profit resources. What’s more, knowing how much it is going to cost your organization in terms of funds and energy, you’ll need nerves of steel to make the call on the final name. Even if you have the resources and the nerve you need to be prepared for the process to be both exciting and taxing.
But a name change, done well, also offers huge upsides: the opportunity to tell your organization’s story in a new and compelling way, a means of getting attention from new and prospective supporters alike, and an infusion of energy to excite and motivate staff and volunteers.
If changing the name of your non-profit sounds worthwhile, we suggest you try to answer the eight questions below. If you can answer most them with a “Yes,” then it might be time for a new name:
1. Has your organization changed its mission or focus so much so that its current name no longer reflects what it does?
2. Is your name so similar to that of another organization that people confuse you with them (and you lose support as a result)?
3. Is your leadership in unanimous or near-unanimous agreement that a better name is needed?
4. Do you have the staff time to devote to creating, introducing, and familiarizing your community with a new name?
5. Can you afford an experienced consultant to advise you on a name change?
6. Can you afford to re-design your organization’s logo and create a new tagline to match a new name?
7. Can you afford to reprint all your published materials and letterhead, recreate any video resources, and update all online materials with your new name and logo? How about new signage for your offices? Materials for the sites in which you operate…
8. Are you confident that investing in a new name will actually help your organization attract enough more support to justify the costs?
If you’re still nodding your head and prepared for the costs — and benefits —of changing your organization’s name, we’d love to help. As non-profit brand strategy experts we will employ our inclusive methodology to help you create the sound strategy to ensure your new name is a winner, and is embraced by your internal and external stakeholders.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2010 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.
See all posts by Jennie Winton