Why Are So Many Nonprofits Renaming?

5 min read

There comes a time when many social sector organizations must ask themselves a difficult question: is going through a nonprofit renaming exercise necessary for our success, and possibly even for our survival?

If your nonprofit is currently facing challenges like a disconnect between your name and your mission, or a misalignment between initiatives you want to pursue and how your brand is perceived externally, it may be time to consider a new name. At Prosper Strategies, we’ve observed a renaming trend take off firsthand, and have received a record number of renaming and rebranding inquiries in the last year.

Is going through a nonprofit renaming exercise necessary for our success, and possibly even for our survival? Click To Tweet

We expect to see many organizations continue this trend of renaming and rebranding in the next year to help tackle the challenges they face and effectively achieve their missions. Many organizations choose to rename and rebrand in order to:

  • Use more progressive language that better represents the stakeholders they serve
  • Align with a broadened scope for their mission
  • Differentiate from other organizations in their space

In this post, we’ll explore each of these motivations for renaming and discuss what your organization should do if you’re considering renaming for one of these reasons.

Use more progressive language that better represents the stakeholders you serve

When Resilience –– formerly known as Rape Victims Advocates –– approached Prosper Strategies and Substance Strategic Visual Communication to help rename and rebrand their organization, they sought to evolve their brand to align with how they preferred to talk about, and to, their clients. During our recent panel and roundtable dinner on the Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector, Resilience executive director Erin Walton told a story about how, during her interview with the organization, the board told her they didn’t refer to the people they served as victims, but as survivors. She immediately recognized that having the word “victim” in the organization’s name was problematic, and they needed to make a change.

Further, in a recent interview with Crain’s Chicago, Walton said that “‘victim’ is a trigger word that doesn’t resonate with some survivors.” She also noted that the former name occasionally impeded fundraising because sponsors didn’t want their brand names associated with the word “rape.”

Resilience followed a larger trend of more organizations who are striving to use “strengths-based” messaging in both their names and all communications materials, rather than “needs-based” messaging. This is done in an effort to empower their beneficiaries, rather than presenting them as helpless victims in order to generate sympathy, which can negatively shape perceptions of individuals and whole communities. If you’re concerned your current name may not accurately reflect your community’s preferences or empower them the way you strive to, it may be time to consider renaming your nonprofit organization.

Aligned with a broadened scope for your mission

Perhaps your organization has expanded or evolved its mission since its founding, and your original name is no longer fully inclusive of all current or future goals. This is a very common for organizations that have made the choice to move from literal names to more evocative ones –– like Resilience –– that can encompass a wider range of initiatives. In addition to changing conversations around sexual violence survivors, Resilience also changed their name because, as Walton noted, “rape” too narrowly defined their focus, because they help all survivors of sexual trauma. Further, the word “advocates” no longer accurately described the broader work they do.

Another major example of this was in 2008, when America’s Second Harvest changed its name to Feeding America to “more fully engage the public in the fight against hunger.” According to then-senior vice president of communication Phil Zepeda, America’s Second Harvest didn’t describe what the organization did, and ultimately created more confusion than clarity. After a long renaming and rebranding exploration process, Feeding America was chosen over another, more literal name because it was evocative and action-oriented.

Or, consider in 2010, when the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) changed their name to The Y, formally adopting the nickname people had used for years, citing a new emphasis on youth, healthy living and communities.

If your current name is literal in nature, but no longer adequately describes the work you do or the communities you serve, this is a clear indicator that a nonprofit rename is in order.

If your current name is literal in nature, but no longer adequately describes the work you do or the communities you serve, this is a clear indicator that a nonprofit rename is in order. Click To Tweet

Differentiating from other organizations

The current national climate has cultivated an incredible changemaking spirit, and every day, new nonprofit organizations are coming to prominence. In Chicagoland alone, the booming nonprofit sector has resulted in numerous organizations with similar names and areas of focus in every category. But this saturation can be a challenge for each of these nonprofits. Lisa Bertagnoli illustrated the occasional lack of Chicago nonprofit brand differentiation well in another Crain’s Chicago article:

“Want to help people learn to read? Literacy Chicago, Literacy Works and Children’s Literacy Initiative can help, along with 100-plus other organizations in the Chicago area. Both Bernie’s Books and Open Books distribute used books. Family Matters and Family Focus help families, though neither should be confused with Focus on the Family.”

Of course, when there are several organizations seeking to achieve a similar mission, it can be a good thing (especially when they collaborate). But it might be time to consider a new name for your organization as a tool for differentiation if your stakeholders are constantly confusing your organization with another, similar nonprofit, or even worse, with a government agency or totally unrelated business.

If your stakeholders are constantly confusing your organization with another, similar nonprofit, or even worse, with a government agency or totally unrelated business. Click To Tweet

A new name for your nonprofit can be the next big step toward achieving your mission.

If your organization is considering a full or partial rebrand, download our free ebook on Nonprofit Brand 2.0 – Understanding the New Nonprofit Brand Paradigm. In it, we explore today’s most innovative nonprofits are recognizing brand as a tool for driving internal cohesion and capacity, mission advancement and social impact.

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