The simplest way to tell the story of who you are to everyone you contact is through your organization’s name. A second opportunity to communicate your mission is through your tag line. It is amazing how many groups have names and/or taglines that, at best, don’t tell people what they do, and at worst, confuse them about the organization’s mission.
What’s in a Name?
If you are just starting an organization or are very new, it’s critical that you take a look at your name and see if it conveys your story, or at least some critical parts of your mission. Miriam’s Kitchen is one such nonprofit, a soup kitchen and social services organization in Washington, D.C. that addresses the root causes of homelessness (watch Michelle Obama’s visit there earlier this year on You Tube ).
The word kitchen of course conveys that Miriam’s serves food. Using the possessive of the name connotes a homey and welcoming place. People from a Judeo-Christian background may also recognize Miriam as a biblical name. Since the nonprofit was created by a church (Western Presbyterian) as part of its urban ministry, that is an important connection. Miriam was the older sister of Moses, a woman of faith who helped to serve her people and supported their release from bondage and, in effect, homelessness. So the name Miriam’s Kitchen conveys a message about why the group does the work it does (because it feels God calls it to do so) and how it operates (by helping people be fed and find a home). All of these elements make Miriam’s Kitchen a great name for a nonprofit that feeds and supports the homeless.
We’re Too Old to Change Our Name
If you’re an older organization, you may think a name change is too difficult and expensive. You may be right. Both goodwill and community connections are associated with your name. But there also may be missed opportunities for immediate brand connections during email and direct mail campaigns. And with the increase in on-demand printing and online communications, the cost of reprinting costly brochures is less of a consideration. Take the Sitar Arts Center in Washington, D.C. Originally named the Patricia M. Sitar Center for the Arts in honor of an arts education advocate for the children of the Adams Morgan neighborhood where the Center is located, the name also evokes the historical Indian instrument. But the Sitar Arts Center is a vibrant urban arts center providing visual, literary and performing arts experiences for economically disadvantaged children in the District of Columbia. To ensure it communicated its mission more clearly, a recent re-branding campaign shortened the center name to Sitar Arts Center with the tag line “celebrating kids, arts and community.” This is a good compromise for an organization wanting to keep its original name but better convey mission.
Given the importance of electronic communications today, your name and tag line will appear literally hundreds if not thousands of times every day as members of your staff and volunteers are emailing people about your work. And that goes a long way towards detracting from or supporting your brand. Every institution should re-examine its name and tag line at least every 5 years, or when you are conducting your regular strategic planning. A good match can help with donor and marketing campaigns. And a mismatch is not something you can afford.
Are you considering a name or tag line change? What are your biggest obstacles? What are the opportunities? Please share…