The Name Game

June 15, 2009       Mark Hrywna      

Staff at the League for the Hard of Hearing in New York City started having the feeling a few years ago that people didn’t know exactly what the nonprofit was all about. The organization’s name seemed outdated and old-fashioned, with the impression that it’s some advocacy group for older people with hearing loss. New clients usually had no idea the league provided clinical services.

“Anecdotally we knew that,” said Laurie Hanin, executive director of the Center for Hearing and Communication, which changed its name this past April. Research helped tremendously in convincing board members who weren’t sure the name was hurting the organization.

It basically all boiled down to one question on a survey: “If you needed to schedule a hearing test, which organization would you likely visit?” Some 95 percent chose the Center for Hearing and Communication compared to the League for the Hard of Hearing. “One board member said, ‘How fast can we change it?’ and at that point, everyone was on board,” Hanin said.

A rehabilitation center for people with hearing loss, the center provides clinical services such as testing, fitting and dispensing of hearing aids and speech therapy. The center has a budget of more than $5 million, with 60 percent gained through fundraising and remainder through fees for services.

The organization has been trying to boost the 17,000 annual visits for its services. The new name is part of a larger effort the past several years to rebrand the organization. The center relocated about five years ago from the west side of Manhattan to the Wall Street area. “We had a name that just wasn’t matching up to our state-of-the-art facility. É We had a clear idea of what the image of the league wanted to be, what we wanted people to know,” Hanin said. “The research showed a complete mismatch,” she said.

Todd Baker, vice president/senior strategist at Grizzard in Atlanta, has seen a trend the past several years of nonprofits embracing the concept of branding and “realizing they actually have true experiences to help people, the general public, make them better people by getting them engaged in the greater cause, to change lives, etc.

“The concept of branding itself is leading nonprofits down this path which ultimately they decide, the reason we started 25 years ago, is not as well known as it is today,” Baker said. “The whole concept of branding is causing these groups to realize they either have to change their name…or…their mission is solved,” he said.

Some clients at first questioned the name change, specifically removing League from the title. Once presented with the research, Hanin said, “almost every single one realized it was the right thing to do. Donors without exception have thought it was a good move for us.”

The conversation was initiated during a December 2006 board meeting by a new board member. About half of the 30-member board immediately supported a change, while the other half didn’t think it was a good idea. All agreed, though, in gathering more information and the rebranding effort was a discussion at quarterly board meetings ever since.

Discussing options for a new name, one board member repeatedly stressed “clarity of purpose,” Hanin said, adding that the name had to be clear, yet basic. For at least a year or two, the organization will include “formerly The League for the Hard of Hearing” on business cards and other materials.

Hanin estimated the cost of rebranding to be between $40,000 and $50,000. A board member was able to secure pro bono services from Silverman Group, a New Haven, Conn., firm specializing in branding, leaving the largest expense (about $20,000) to revamp the Web site. To reduce the costs of a name change, Roger Sametz suggests getting as much participation from people who are connected to your organization, whether that’s staff, board members or volunteers. “They can really shorten the time and cost of making your new name or brand known,” said Sametz, president and founder of Sametz Blackstone Associates, a Boston-based consulting firm.

“There are the immediate, quantifiable costs for re-tooling communications that present the organization and name: print and digital materials, signage, etc. While you can phase in a re-branding with an existing name, you cannot phase in a new name,” Sametz said. “It must be introduced across communications in a big-bang moment,” he added.

Christian Children’s Fund (CFF) has changed its name several times during its 70-year existence. One of the largest nonprofits in the United States, Richmond, Va.-based CCF changed its name to ChildFund International to be recognized as part of ChildFund Alliance, which has 11 other member organizations around the world. The fund had been co-branding itself as “a member of ChildFund Alliance,” since January.

“It’s not an easy thing to do,” CCF President Anne Goddard said of leaving behind a name with as much equity as Christian Children’s Fund. “It’s hard to give up something from the past. That’s why it was a two-year process, it took at lot of thinking,” she said. “The pluses way outweigh the difficulty in leaving something behind but it’s still difficult.”

The rebranding effort, which includes a new strategy, name, logo and colors, started two years ago, involving staff and donors from around the world. “Being part of that global brand will expand our reach,” said Goddard.

The nonprofit’s board approved the name change this past April and it officially will be rolled out by July. Goddard believes the new name and global brand will open new opportunities in fundraising, particularly corporate and private foundation funding. She anticipates the brand effort will cost less than $2 million overall, which is less than 1 percent of the organization’s $230 million in annual revenues. That figure includes some $750,000 for the cost of legal registration, signage and notifying donors.

Board members were very much involved in the strategizing as were CCF employees around the world, one reason why Goddard believes the process took two years. There also was healthy debate along with focus groups with donors and talking to major donors.

Cheri Dahl, vice president for international communication and fundraising, relayed the story of one donor who appreciated the evangelical part of CCF’s name — even though it hasn’t incorporate religious teachings in decades. Though the organization was founded as China’s Children’s Fund, it moved beyond China to Christian Children’s Fund during the 1950s, but in the 1970s went away from the orphanage model and religious teachings to a community model, she said.

The rebranding effort for ChildFund International also will include ramping up Web strategies going forward, including blogs, Facebook and search engine optimization, according to Dahl. If people are aware and informed, they’ll begin to discuss children’s needs. Eventually, she said, that will lead to support, usually financial, but sometimes not. “We want to engage people in many different ways. Right now it’s a communications strategy, to keep people informed about the work we’re doing,” Dahl said.

There are nonprofits that change their name and brand once in a lifetime. That’s true for National Jewish Health, too, if by lifetime you mean decade. The Denver-based organization has changed its name just about every 10 years since the 1960s, seven times in all of its 110 years in existence.

The name National Jewish has been with the organization since it was started but the descriptor has been modified. Most recently, the organization changed this past July from the National Jewish Medical and Research Center to simply National Jewish Health.

“Most people in the past, continue to associate us with National Jewish,” said Dr. David Tinkelman, vice president, health initiatives. “National Jewish clearly identifies us better with the institution and what we’re doing,” he said.

The name change took effect last fall, but the economy has significantly slowed the pace of the transition. “Our rollout was going to be much more extensive over time,” Tinkelman said, but since the downturn started last fall, the organization “pulled back on building the national brand as much as we had wanted to.”

Tinkelman said the effort turned into a more sudden name change. The most significant cutbacks were in national advertising as the institution had planned a broader approach, with prominent placements in newspapers and magazines. Visitors to the complex will note that outside signage at the facility’s 13 buildings remain the same as before. “We totally pulled back on that until the economy changes. We had to make a decision: either that or lose positions,” Tinkelman said.

Instead, the transition has focused on external efforts, including things like advertising, stationary, business cards and lab coats; “any place where we interface with patients,” Tinkelman said. NPT