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Non-profit branding: The right way and the wrong way to change the name of your NPO

The name of your non-profit should convey your message. It should quickly and easily share your meaning.

Your purpose.

Your impact.

Your name is often the first thing donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders see when they become aware of your organization. For this reason, it should say a lot about your non-profit.

It should be descriptive and accurately identify you and your impact.

That’s the #1 job of a name, after all.

What’s in a Name?
But what if your name doesn’t describe you anymore?

What if, after years or decades, there’s now a disconnect between your name and your mission?

What if there’s a misalignment between the initiatives you plan to pursue and the way your audience perceives your brand?

What if your name is just plain confusing?

These are all reasons it’s time for a renaming exercise. In fact,

renaming your non-profit might be necessary for your success-- and your survival.- Kerstin Heuer Click To Tweet

Other reasons include:

  1. You need to differentiate your organization from others. (Are you getting a phone call a day for a different business?)
  2. The acronym of your name is confusing. (e.g., people think you own a car dealership because your acronym is T.R.U.C.K.)
  3. Your name is just too long and hard to remember (if you have to use an acronym, it’s probably too long).
  4. Your name mentions a specific region you’re in but you’ve expanded (e.g., The North Alberta Cat Rescue).
  5. Your name mentions services you provide but you’ve changed gears.
  6. Your name mentions a population you service but you serve different audiences now (e.g., your 30-year-old organization named The Refugee Group used to only help refugees, but now your programming has evolved and you work 90% with immigrants).

Now that you realize it’s time to rename your non-profit, it’s time to do it the right way. And to do that, you also need to recognize the wrong way to rebrand and rename your NPO.

The Wrong Way to Rename Your Non-Profit

It’ll be easy, they said.
It’ll be FUN, they said.

Boy, oh boy, were they ever wrong.

As exciting and easy as it might seem to rename an organization, I’m here to tell you that it’s a lot harder than it looks. In fact, after 25 years of working on non-profit branding and marketing projects, I can tell you how the situation will go if you try to rename your organization in house.

The typical process (the wrong way) goes like this:

  1. You want to rename in house because you know your organization best (and it helps you save money).
  2. You start a contest and ask your board/volunteers/followers for name ideas.
  3. You start a committee and have 10 brainstorming sessions…but they just lead to more confusing names.
  4. Uh oh. That means the board doesn’t approve any of the names and you go back to the drawing board.
  5. Then, after wasting several months, you still don’t have a name.

You feel frustrated.
You feel like all the awesome names have been taken already.
You feel like you need a more cohesive plan.
You don’t know why you can’t figure it out!

The Right Way (Do This First!)

Although you might know your organization best, but you might know it too well to succeed with a renaming exercise. It’s like sitting in a jar and not being able to read your own label. You need someone to help guide you and help you read your label.

And the truth is

renaming isn’t just about the name. It’s about non-profit branding. If your name isn’t aligning with your impact, then your brand as a whole probably isn’t either.- Kerstin Heuer Click To Tweet

So, what you need to do is tune in.

How do you do that, you might ask?

Follow this six-step process:

  1. Research: Determine how your NPO is perceived by your audience (clients, volunteers, board members, donors, etc.). The goal here is to find a theme that helps you better identify what’s in the jar, so you know what to write on that jar’s label.
  2. Define or revisit who you are: What is your purpose? Why do you do what you do? How do you do it?
  3. Define your audience: Who are the people who build your tribe? What are their pain points, goals, and dreams? (Because they are the ones you need to connect wtih)
  4. Create your Naming Strategy: (Do’s and Don’ts, for example, not more than 2 words,)
  5. Rename: When renaming, consider the look, feel, and tone you want to achieve. Determine the key messages and impact you want to convey. Take what you’ve learned to your committee and align what you’ve learned with your vision and values. Based on this, you can facilitate a useful renaming workshop and draft ideas.
  6. Visual non-profit branding: Develop your logo, colour scheme, and brand elements. How do you want your new identity to be portrayed visually?
  7. Implementation: Train your staff, volunteers, and board on your new key messages. Make sure your people reflect your brand every day.

Considering renaming and rebranding? Book a strategy call with me today.

About the Author
Kerstin Heuer is a branding marketing consultant and founder of Non-Profit Today. Since 2008, she has used the trifecta of branding, marketing, and design to help nonprofits communicate the heart of their organization, connect with their audiences, and achieve their missions. With over 25 years of industry experience and lessons learned from work on 500+ non-profit projects, Kerstin is skilled in collaborating with NPOs to make sure they have a clear message and the traction they need to spread it. Connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at kerstin@non-profit.today.

Need help with non-profit marketing?

Contact us at hello@non-profit.today and we will be happy to help you.

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