Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
4 min Read
March 4, 2021

Resource guide to exploring a nonprofit name change

Your name is your organization’s first and most widely traveled ambassador. It has one job to do — accurately identify who you are. There’s a lot we put into names. They are the cornerstone of our identity. Names are often the first brand asset we have to draw people in, getting them to recognize us and then being easy enough to remember so they come back. Many folks who work for, volunteer, donate, act, or participate with nonprofits connect as personally with the organization’s name as they do their own–it feels core to their identity. Considering a name change can stir up lots of emotions and is often met with resistance. In some cases, keeping your name but exploring a new tagline or shifts to other parts of your messaging or visuals is the way to go. In other cases, especially when the current name is inaccurate, misleading, alienating, or in other ways limiting, exploring a change may just be the way to go.

While we only recommend a name change for a few organizations we guide through the brandraising process each year, it’s one of the first assets we analyze through the lens of brand strategy and a topic of frequent conversation amongst our team.

Should your nonprofit examine its name? How do you engage your community in the process? What should you consider in developing a new name and rolling it out? How have other organizations navigated this process? Below is a summary of insights, case studies, podcasts, and a webinar to guide your thinking.

  • Should your name be descriptive and straightforward? What happens when it’s so long that most just use your acronym? Senior strategist, Laura Fisher, shares reflections based on some market research we’ve done so you can learn how your nonprofit’s name can affect awareness.
  • Wondering how to get your new name right? In this blog, I provide 10 steps you can take to ensure your nonprofit renaming process goes smoothly.
  • Renaming your organization can be one of the hardest things you can go through in the branding process. This post by our former creative director, Dan Gunderman, explores some universal truths about naming your organization (such as: “You will not know it when you hear it.”)
  • Should you keep your name the same, evolve it, or radically change it? Listen in as Dan and I talk with Sarah Durham, CEO, in this podcast episode about the lessons we’ve learned over the years.
  • Overwhelmed by the pros and cons of exploring a new name? Not sure where to start? In this recorded webinar, Is it time to change your nonprofit’s name?, I explored the name change process. including how to build buy-in, apply it to digital channels, and successfully roll it out with representatives from three nonprofits who recently changed their names: Candid, Community Change, and Race Forward.
  • Not all nonprofits have a tagline, but some do see value in using a tagline to complete the sentence your name begins by modifying a murky name, showcasing your values, or inviting people to take action with you. Think bigger about your tagline and messaging in this post by Dan, Do you need a tagline—or something else? You can also tune into this conversation between Sarah and senior copywriter, Ryan Gerhardt in this podcast episode, where they ask, “What type of tagline works best?
  • Wondering how to engage your community and lead an inclusive process? In this interview with Alison Wilkey from the John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity, we discussed why they changed their name from the Prisoner Reentry Institute, challenges and opportunities in the process, initial rollout, and more.

If you change your name, you’re also likely to rethink your entire brand identity–visuals and messaging. With clear brand strategies in place, we’ve led dozens of organizations through this process. Here are some case studies where you can see how the name fits into the larger context of each organization’s brand:

I hope these resources give you what you need to assess your name and spark conversation around if and how it might change.

If you are wondering how we can help you navigate this process and explore your name, logo, tagline, elevator pitch, and other parts of your brand, contact us here.

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