Change your name at your own risk

One of the dependably silly things you can observe if you watch the fundraising scene is organizations changing their names, leaving behind sensible understandable names for new jaw-droppingly strange ones.

Seachange Strategies Blog notes this sad phenomena at Why name changes suck and branding is hard, pointing out two recent changes (Point Reyes Bird Observatory is now Point Blue Conservation Science and Jewish Funds for Justice is now Bend the Arc), along with a classic, when World Wildlife Fund tried to become World Wide Fund for Nature.

As comical as some of these changes are, they aren’t doing it for our entertainment. Somebody believes they’re doing something smart: Sometimes they’re making a desperate attempt to breathe life into a moribund fundraising program. (Note: It doesn’t work; you have to fix what’s actually broken, not try to escape by changing your name.) Other times, they’re struggling to capture a mission that has grown beyond what the original name describes.

Like this terrible example of an arts organization in Florida that changed from the Naples Philharmonic to Artis-Naples (I’m not making that up. Read about it here.

Changing your name, even when it’s not a goofball change like “Artis-Naples,” is very risky. (See What’s in a name (change)? for what you can expect from changing your name and other ill-advised moves.)

Your tired, corny, out-dated name may be one of the most valuable assets you have. Don’t change it!

See also the sad stories of how World Emergency Relief became Emerge Poverty Free and Cascade Land Conservancy became Forterra.


Comments

12 responses to “Change your name at your own risk”

  1. Totally agree with this.
    We see lots of name changing, sometimes it is needed but usually its not for the best.
    Love the blogs 🙂

  2. Totally agree with this.
    We see lots of name changing, sometimes it is needed but usually its not for the best.
    Love the blogs 🙂

  3. We are very proud of our name change to Point Blue Conservation Science. Just had a celebration with over 300 in attendance. Please read “From Point Reyes to Point Blue” at http://www.pointblue.org to learn more!
    Thanks-
    Ellie Cohen
    President and CEO

  4. We are very proud of our name change to Point Blue Conservation Science. Just had a celebration with over 300 in attendance. Please read “From Point Reyes to Point Blue” at http://www.pointblue.org to learn more!
    Thanks-
    Ellie Cohen
    President and CEO

  5. Rare success – Spastics Society became Cerebral Palsy Association http://www.cpaustralia.com.au/. Worried about income impact they invested in fundraising. Runaway success. They know they did not succeed directly because of name change but indirectly it helped because they (internally) rallied to make it work.
    Generally I see whilst a name change is not helpful, it is not as important as ‘investing in brand’ or ‘reducing fundraising costs’ – two sure fire ways to smash your income backwards.

  6. Rare success – Spastics Society became Cerebral Palsy Association http://www.cpaustralia.com.au/. Worried about income impact they invested in fundraising. Runaway success. They know they did not succeed directly because of name change but indirectly it helped because they (internally) rallied to make it work.
    Generally I see whilst a name change is not helpful, it is not as important as ‘investing in brand’ or ‘reducing fundraising costs’ – two sure fire ways to smash your income backwards.

  7. I was on the board of one nonprofit, the Cincinnati Comprehensive Child Care referral agency, about 15 years ago when they decided to change it to “4C.” I voted against the move, saying it would confuse people. This was right at the beginning of the Internet, so I was still thinking telephone book. I told them their stakeholders would be wondering: is it listed under “f” for “four”? Or would it be numerically in front for “4”? Plus, there are so many other 4Cs — such as the annual conference put on in Chicago for English professors and grad students. They did it anyway, adding the tag: “for Children.” I estimate it took them at least five years to regain the name recognition they’d had in Cincinnati before doing that.
    But that’s not the worst boneheaded move in Cincinnati. In 1927, Mrs. Mary Emery and Mrs. Charles Phelps Taft (C.P. was one of the brothers of William Howard Taft) established an annual campaign in support of four local arts organizations: the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cincinnati Opera, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Taft Museum. (In 1978, the fund was expanded to also support the Cincinnati Ballet, the Contemporary Arts Center, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and the May Festival. Other programs have since been added.) This fantastic support of the arts in our wonderful city was called, for 83 years, the Fine Arts Fund. Besides supporting the standing arts institutions, smaller organizations could apply to it for funding.
    In 2010, someone got the great idea to change the Fine Arts Fund to ArtsWave. (http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/2010/09/20/daily27.html.) I understand the concept and the image. But really? I wonder how long it will be before we can stop calling it “ArtsWave. It used to be the Fine Arts Fund.”

  8. I was on the board of one nonprofit, the Cincinnati Comprehensive Child Care referral agency, about 15 years ago when they decided to change it to “4C.” I voted against the move, saying it would confuse people. This was right at the beginning of the Internet, so I was still thinking telephone book. I told them their stakeholders would be wondering: is it listed under “f” for “four”? Or would it be numerically in front for “4”? Plus, there are so many other 4Cs — such as the annual conference put on in Chicago for English professors and grad students. They did it anyway, adding the tag: “for Children.” I estimate it took them at least five years to regain the name recognition they’d had in Cincinnati before doing that.
    But that’s not the worst boneheaded move in Cincinnati. In 1927, Mrs. Mary Emery and Mrs. Charles Phelps Taft (C.P. was one of the brothers of William Howard Taft) established an annual campaign in support of four local arts organizations: the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cincinnati Opera, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Taft Museum. (In 1978, the fund was expanded to also support the Cincinnati Ballet, the Contemporary Arts Center, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and the May Festival. Other programs have since been added.) This fantastic support of the arts in our wonderful city was called, for 83 years, the Fine Arts Fund. Besides supporting the standing arts institutions, smaller organizations could apply to it for funding.
    In 2010, someone got the great idea to change the Fine Arts Fund to ArtsWave. (http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/2010/09/20/daily27.html.) I understand the concept and the image. But really? I wonder how long it will be before we can stop calling it “ArtsWave. It used to be the Fine Arts Fund.”

  9. Most effective name change I’ve seen in years was America’s Second Harvest… To “Feeding America”. They simplfied. They made their message clearer. It seems it has helped them to reach a broader audience. Hats off to them.

  10. Most effective name change I’ve seen in years was America’s Second Harvest… To “Feeding America”. They simplfied. They made their message clearer. It seems it has helped them to reach a broader audience. Hats off to them.

  11. Katrina VanHuss Avatar
    Katrina VanHuss

    Ask “how is my current professional doing?” and the answer you get is “they are terrible and you need to change…to me and something new.”
    This works for anything open to interpretation. And it’s hard to not go after the bright, shiny new object (logo and name).

  12. Katrina VanHuss Avatar
    Katrina VanHuss

    Ask “how is my current professional doing?” and the answer you get is “they are terrible and you need to change…to me and something new.”
    This works for anything open to interpretation. And it’s hard to not go after the bright, shiny new object (logo and name).

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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