4 min Read
August 1, 2018

Getting your new name right: ensuring a successful organizational renaming process

Naming your nonprofit organization is a bit like naming your child (or fur baby, in my case). People will love it or hate it. They will share stories of places or things that come to mind when they hear the name for the first time. Their reactions will make you smile or cringe. But in the end, they will get used to it and start to infuse new associations with the organization (or being) as their experiences inform their perception, rather than their history or beliefs.

Your nonprofit’s name has one job to do: accurately identify who you are. A  name is your organization’s first and most widely traveled ambassador: it goes everywhere. It’s on your business cards and email signatures, staff and board member’s LinkedIn profiles, the envelope flap of your appeals. Everything. Getting your name right is hard… and knowing when and how to change it is even harder.

Your organization’s name is also just one aspect of your brand identity. It’s typically connected to your tagline and logo too, so while it can’t tell your whole story (remember, it’s job is merely to identify you), it is a critical element in establishing your voice.

Should your organization explore changing its name?

If you are wondering if it is time to change your name, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your name misrepresent the work you do? For example, if your name details serving a particular population or region you may need to change it if you now or soon will be expanding to serve others in a significant way. (This was the case for our client Junior Blind of America, who we renamed in this case study.)
  • Is your name dated or inappropriate? For example, if your name contains a word or phrase that is no longer used due to a shift in social norms or understanding, it may be time for a switch. AARP and NAACP both renamed themselves to their acronyms to avoid dated terms in their names (“retired persons” and “colored people” respectively).
  • Is your name hard to use? For example, if your name is frequently  mispronounced or misspelled, or translates badly into digital (e.g. too long for a good URL or Twitter handle).
  • Does your name signify something that contradicts your brand strategy? For example, you want to be seen as friendly and nurturing, but your name sounds awkward and intimidating.
  • Does your name lack recognition? If no one’s ever heard of you and your name isn’t an essential part of your identity the risk of alienating supporters if you change it decreases.

If you decide to explore a name change, get aligned about how far your team needs—and is willing—to go. Is this the right time to explore a change at all? And if so, should you hold on to some of your history or is it time for a revolutionary change?

What steps should you undertake if you embark on a name change?
  1. Set or confirm your overall goals and audiences for communications. Begin by checking your strategic plan as this sets the overall direction for your organization and your brand should follow.
  2. Develop or update your brand strategy and check your current name against it. (We might be able to help!)
  3. Consider a new tagline instead. Sometimes adding or refining your tagline can help complete the sentence that your name begins, and is much less challenging process to go through.
  4. Align around the challenges of your current name and create guidelines for what the new name should communicate before you brainstorm options. Discuss if you are looking for an evolution or a revolution–or if you are open to exploring both avenues.
  5. Brainstorm different name types, and consider getting ideas and/or testing among staff, board, participants, donors, and other important stakeholders.
  6. Consider your top candidates through the lens of equity. Will all of your stakeholders—including people of diverse race, ethnicities, gender expressions, and other identities—be comfortable with your finalists? Are the names culturally competent for all of your audiences?
  7. Check finalists in Google, trademark databases, domains, social handles and more to confirm if the new name (or a variation) available. Review against your peer landscape. Is your top choice  different enough from your peers?
  8. Live with it behind-the-scenes before you launch. Does the name reflect your organization’s core principles? How does it sound when you say it out loud? Try it on for size to ensure it actually works internally before you unveil it publicly.  
  9. Confirm your new organizational name’s availability with a lawyer specializing in intellectual property, and file a “doing business as” (DBA), if relevant.
  10. Update the rest of your identity and create a rollout plan.

The insights below will offer more details and inspiration. And, of course, we’re here to help! Connect with us here.