Why names and refreshed brands matter when building up your nonprofit

Lincoln Center and Children’s Aid drop “Society”

New signage we designed for Children’s Aid is now up in Harlem and the Bronx. “This lends itself to this day and age when everything is shorter…especially on social media,” says Anthony Ramos, VP of Communications at Children’s Aid.

Nonprofits need to be aware of what their names mean and how they reflect their brand to their constituents. It’s a matter of authenticity. Are you who you say you are? When your mission has shifted or perceptions about you and your name have changed it may be time to reexamine your name. That’s why The Film Society at Lincoln Center is dropping “Society” from its name and will be known as simply, “Film at Lincoln Center.” Lesli Klainberg, the group’s executive director, told the New York Times, “‘Society’ has a sort of old-fashioned sense of elitism — it feels more closed,” The very concept of “society” reflects the behavior and lifestyle of people with the highest levels of wealth and social status. It’s not very woke. Traditional gender roles where men will be men and women will take care of everything are damaging to your nonprofit organization’s brand in the #me too era. The term ‘Society’ is defined as “people who are fashionable, wealthy, and influential, regarded as forming a distinct group in a community.”

This elitism is out of step with the inclusive goals of today’s public. Inclusivity should be an essential part of being a nonprofit. “As organizations whose goal is to make the world a better place, there is no question about the justness of the cause for inclusion,” writes Anika Rahman, in Huff Post.

Building a better society without society.

The nonprofit founded over 135 years ago as The Children’s Aid Society dropped “Society” from its name and successfully rebranded the organization. “Society” was deemed too high-falutin says Anthony Ramos, VP of communication, “It didn’t feel appropriate or what we wanted our organization to be.” Just like Federal Express shortened their name to “FedEx,” Children’s Aid felt the shorter name was a better reflection of who they were. Ramos added, “Internally, this was how we always referred to ourselves. We never said the ‘Society’ part.” Children’s Aid wants to be more relevant and known for how they respond to the needs to children and families today, not the organization of “Society people,” which has an unwanted class stratification connotation. The change has been good for business with upticks in awareness that have improved fundraising communication. “This lends itself to this day and age when everything is shorter…especially on social media,” added Ramos.

“Our brand should reflect the powerful impact we have on the lives of the children and families we are so privileged to serve,” says Phoebe Boyer, CEO of Children’s Aid, in their new brand guidebook.

Your brand is much more than just a name or logo change.

Bruce Turkel, author of All about Them: Grow Your Business by Focusing on Others, reminds us that, “a brand is the reputation we have, the promise we make, the feeling our audiences get when they consume our products or services.” To really capitalize on a new or refreshed brand, you have to deliver on your promise. Your goal should be to invigorate your current funders and supporters while attracting new people to join your cause. What is your cause? How to you effect change? You must define why your “new” organization is better than others in following through and addressing the issues of today. Your branding program is important, but it means nothing if you can’t back it up with concrete actions that prove you are initiating more than just a face-lift.

It’s about legacy

With a new name and brand, you are setting a standard for a clear voice and visual presentation of the organization that will help ensure your lasting legacy over multiple projects for years to come. By establishing a professional visual system that is consistent across all forms of communications you are establishing a look and attitude that stands apart from other organizations and commands attention.

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