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Sophie W. Penney, PhD

About Sophie

Telling the Tale of a Nonprofit Name Change

If you're thinking about changing the name of your nonprofit you are invited to read this article along with Changing Your Nonprofit Organization’s Name and Maybe Even Its Brand. That piece and this article go together like peas in a pod.

In Changing Your Nonprofit’s Name, I noted that fundraisers sometimes find the nonprofits which they serve considering a name change. I mentioned that while a fundraiser’s time is limited, and it might seem best to leave renaming to the marketing team, savvy fundraisers seek a seat at the table during such conversations.

I've found myself in such a situation with not one, but three, of my consulting clients. Stephen Nill invited me to take you on a journey – to tell the tale of my experience with the renaming process pursued by one of those clients. Thanks to Stephen and to the executive director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center for permitting me to share this story.

Before telling the story, I offer a key point to keep in mind —your organization’s name is often the first thing donors see when they become aware of your nonprofit. Descriptive names tell a prospective donor a great deal about an organization. A name itself could be so descriptive as to spur a donor to make a gift — think Habitat for Humanity or Charity Water.

In addition, even though many factors drive donor retention, donors sometimes continue to give, in part, because they have become comfortable with the name a nonprofit. This might be particularly true if your charity was founded to address a specific cause, as is the case with many nonprofits. So tread lightly before pursuing a name change and take your time.

Why Change the Name?

The Centre County Women’s Resource Center (CCWRC) was founded nearly forty years ago. The #MeToo movement provides a sense of what the issues were in those times — rampant sexism, unwanted sexual contact, and more. So too, relationship violence was all too prevalent as it unfortunately still is today.

Like many nonprofits, CCWRC was founded to serve a specific population, in this case, women in abusive relationships. For decades CCWRC served hundreds if not thousands of women, helping victims of rape, marital abuse, stalking, and more, reclaim their lives. It’s important to say that thanks to a recently completed community survey it was clear that CCWRC was and continues to be a highly recognized and respected nonprofit.

As many as one in four women brought children with them to the shelter. CCWRC staff served not just those mothers, but their children who were impacted by abuse, directly or as frightened onlookers.

Of course, men are also victims of relationship violence, stalking, and abuse. CCWRC has increasingly found itself called upon to serve men. The need became more evident, and demand increased, after 2014. That year a former Penn State football coach, who went on to become the founder of a children’s charity, was convicted of forty counts of child sexual abuse.

Can You See the Problem?

Considering who CCWRC serves, can you see the problem? It quickly becomes evident that the organization’s name did not reflect those it served. That disconnect also became evident as we developed a draft case for support. We found ourselves spending too much time trying to tell the story of who was served versus how those people benefited from the services provided.

It is worth noting that the executive director, Anne Ard, had been contemplating the need for a possible name change for some time. As we discussed this issue, Anne and I, along with the marketing director and a few others, began to ask ourselves some questions:

  • What is a nonprofit to do which primarily serves women (about 75 percent of clients are women), children, and men to do when the name speaks only to women?
  • Should a nonprofit, the name of which is well known and well respected, change that name?
  • How closely tied are the name and the brand; can one be changed without diminishing the other?
  • What will founders and long-time loyal donors say about a name change?

We decided that the best course of action was to ask others what they thought about the name using a series of focus group conversations. The executive director, head of marketing, and I worked with other consultants, staff, and volunteers to develop questions as direct as, “What do you think of the name Centre County Women’s Resource Center?” We then identified several groups which we considered to be representative of those in the community whose voices needed to be heard, such as younger professionals, midlevel professionals, and long-time loyal supporters. We also engaged in discussions with the board and staff.

A Task Group Forms

Many hours and conversations later, nearly every discussion led to the same conclusion. While the organization’s mission was well-respected and well-known by most participants, the name was not reflective of who this nonprofit served nor was the name reflective of the mission. What next? We formed a task group led by the executive director. I serve on the task group along with a board member who works for a fundraising marketing firm, volunteers, donors, and staff.

A New Name Emerges!

Narrowing the field to one name was difficult, but we kept the mission in mind along with CCWRC’s goals. What arose is a new, descriptive, goal-oriented name — Centre Safe: Empowering Survivors, Eliminating Violence. This new name speaks to the goals of Centre Safe: (1) a safe county where violence is no longer welcome and (2) a focus on empowering survivors.

Was the process time-consuming? Yes. I spent many an hour in focus group discussions over breakfast, lunch, and after hours. However, the process provided a tremendous opportunity to engage a wide array of current and potential volunteers and donors and to have them meet one another.

Did having assistance from additional consultants with expertise in market research and marketing prove helpful? Yes. Together we assisted with question formation, leading focus groups, providing information about what to keep in mind when changing a name (see the first article in this series), and brainstorming new names.

We have now started educating long-time and loyal constituents about the new name. There is more education to come, and the task group is currently planning the fall public rollout for the new name.

In case you are wondering, this process unfolded over the course of about a year. In addition to the name change, Centre Safe is also developing a new website and logo. While much time has been spent, we believe that others will share our commitment to a safe Centre County, one where victims are empowered, and we together seek to eliminate violence.

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