What’s In A Name: the future

Many of the words we use everyday have been used for hundreds, even thousands, of years by countless generations of our ancestors, most of whom spoke a language derived and descended from Indo-European – the prototype of the majority of the world’s languages spoken today.  Researchers at Reading University concluded that such words as “I”, “we”, “two” and “three” are words that have been used for tens of thousands of years, and are among the most ancient of words now in common use (BBC News, 2009).  Researchers determined the more often we use a word, the more slowly it changes over time.  Therefore, our most commonly used words tend to be our oldest words.  When we use a word with great frequency, it clearly has great value to us and communicates important information.

These findings would certainly apply to the word we use to identify, describe, or distinguish one thing from another.  When we designate something in a way that expressively classifies it according to some combination of distinguishing characteristics, we give it a “name.”  Since the term “nomen” appears in Indo-European and means “name,” we get a sense for the importance of the word “name,” and the role it plays in our language (Morris, 1981, p. 871).  A “name” can be a name, or it might be a designation, denomination, title, appellation, nickname, sobriquet, cognomen, or moniker.  What few can bear is the inexpressible, indescribable horror of being “nameless.”

What’s in a name?

When any nonprofit organization is established, its founders give serious attention to its name.  Typically, the name provides a great deal of information about its mission and purpose.  Nonprofits work hard to earn public recognition and respect for the good works performed by their members, staff, and volunteers – all of which contributes to its name recognition, which in turn is a significant factor in its ability to sustain public support, solicit donations, and attract members and volunteers.

There are times in the lifecycle of a nonprofit organization when its leadership is faced with the need to consider changing its name – the subject of this posting focusing on major change efforts.

Volunteer Jacksonville to HandsOn Jacksonville: a mini-study

Volunteer Jacksonville, Inc.,  was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in the state of Florida in 1973 (Corrick, Hannan & Fanning, 1973), and granted exempt status as a 501(c)(3) public charity by the IRS in 1976.  The organization’s original mission was that of serving as a clearinghouse for volunteers – a place where individuals could find opportunities through which they could serve their community, and where nonprofit organizations could obtain assistance and retaining volunteers for their programs.

By the 1980s, Volunteer Jacksonville, Inc. had grown into a management resource and support center for nonprofit organizations, as well as fulfilling the responsibilities as a volunteer center.  However, what we would now term as “mission creep” led to a flurry of organizational focus, coupled with significant revenue decreases from the organization’s primary funding source.  For many years there was a persistent sentiment, eventually substantiated by an externally prepared marketing study, to change the name.  By then, “Volunteer Jacksonville” did not accurately describe what the organization provided in the way of public services (Smith, 2006-2010).

In 1998, following extensive planning and development, the organizational model was changed and Volunteer Jacksonville refocused its mission and vision on a single primary customer, “the person whose life is changed because of work that is done–the volunteer” (HandsOn Jacksonville, 2010).  Since then, the organization has also made significant changes in its business model, integrating a direct project management model with the ongoing indirect clearinghouse/brokerage model, that enable it to increasingly focus on: the volunteer; preparing volunteer leaders and managers; conducting volunteer projects; and on what it terms “impact imperatives” in such areas as education, economy, environment, and emergency preparedness.  Impact imperatives projects have also enabled the organization to help restore schools as centers of the community, alleviate poverty, preserve the environment, and prepare the greater Jacksonville community for potential disasters.

In 2006, in a significant move that symbolized the organization’s refocused and revised vision, Volunteer Jacksonville, Inc. changed its name to HandsOn Jacksonville, Inc. – “to reflect our conviction to change the world by inspiring, equipping and mobilizing the people of our community to take action” (HandsOn Jacksonville, 2008).  Explained in the context outlined by Carlson and O’Neal-McElrath (2008), the process followed by the revitalized HandsOn Jacksonville, can be seen as both a structural and an engagement strategy.

The organization clearly re-examined its mission, realigned the organization more in line with the revised and refined mission, then adopted a revised mission, one better suited to the organization’s need to respond to rapidly changing conditions – and opportunities.  The change also enabled them to refocus the organization’s culture and to reengage all of their stakeholders in supporting the improve mission, services, and message.  Further, the name change provided an opportunity and a catalyst to engage with other nonprofits both local and national to establish supportive, collaborative, and cooperative initiatives improving funding support and organizational effectiveness.

For some nonprofits, including some aspects of the HoJ initiative, the process of changing the name is part of an overall organizational rebranding effort, that can include a new strategy, name, logo, color scheme, and website design (Hrywna, 2009).  A brand is not simply the organization’s name or logotype.  Rather, the brand represents, collectively, how that organization’s clients, customers, stakeholders, volunteers, staff, and the general public view the organization, i.e., its overall reputation and standing (allaboutbranding.com, 2011).


Durham (2010) applies the term “Brandraising,” as the name for the process of establishing a coherent, cohesive organizational identity, coupled with a comprehensive communications plan and system that supports these goals, thus making it easier to articulate the organization’s mission and purpose effectively and consistently.  A nonprofit organization’s strongest asset is its brand, and branding includes all of the processes involved in establishing a clear, consistent message about the organization – the goal being to create such a strong association between the organization’s logotype or name that when the public sees or hears them they will think of the organization’s mission and programs in terms defined by the organization (Nissim, 2004).

The objective when branding products, Strand (2010) says, is to establish an association between the product position and the consumer’s self image.  In the case of a nonprofit organization, the difference lies in the fact that the association is developed between the values of that organization and the corresponding values of that organization’s supporters.  For example: “We connect and engage people in service that addresses serious social issues… We make people aware of the issues that face our community, equipping them with hope and tools that empower them to create change” (HandsOn Jacksonville, 2009, p. 2)

What’s a name worth?

The nonprofit’s name and brand play an important role in the organization’s ability to generate future revenue and resources.  What the organization stands for should be uncompromising and absolutely clear to the public.  As reported in the Cone Nonprofit Power Brand 100, the top nonprofit brand in the United States is the YMCA, whose brand is worth $6.393.6 million.  Other top nonprofit brands in the United States include: the Salvation Army, United Way of America, American Red Cross, Goodwill Industries International, and Catholic Charities USA (CNBC, 2009).


allaboutbranding.com. (2011). Whether Marketing a Corporate Brand or a Branded Product or Service, Success. Retrieved January 25, 2011, from allaboutbranding.com and DNA Designed Communications Ltd.: http://www.allaboutbranding.com/

BBC News. (2009, February 26). ‘Oldest English words’ identified [Some of the oldest words in the English and other Indo-European languages have been identified, scientists believe.]. In Science & environment. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7911645.stm

Carlson, M., & O’Neal-McElrath, T. (2008). Winning grants: Step by step. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

CNBC. (2009, June 26). New report values America’s 100 leading nonprofit brands [As the nation copes with the economic crisis, the value of nonprofit brands are revealed for the first time”]. Retrieved January 25, 2011, from Intangible Business Brand Valuation: http://www.intangiblebusiness.us/Brand-Services/Marketing-Services/News/New-Report-Values-Americas-100-Leading-Nonprofit-Brands-~1179.html

Corrick, G. W., Hannan, P. I., & Fanning, D. S. (1973). Articles of incorporation [Volunteer Jacksonville, Inc.].

Durham, S. (2010). Brandraising. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

HandsOn Jacksonville, I. (2008). VIRE Grant Application [Volunteer impact, retention and expansion (VIRA) grant].

HandsOn Jacksonville, I. (Author). (2009). HandsOn Jacksonville 2009 Report to the Community (J. A. M. Smith, Ed.).

HandsOn Network. (2010). Volunteer impact, retention and expansion grants: Grant application (Instructions and guidance). Retrieved from http://www.handsonnetwork.org/files/VIRE_APPLICATION_INSTRUCTIONS.pdf

Morris, W. (1981). The American heritage dictionary of the English language. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Nissim, B. (2004, October 1). Nonprofit branding: Unveiling the essentials. Retrieved January 25, 2011, from GuideStar: http://www2.guidestar.org/rxa/news/articles/2004/nonprofit-branding-unveiling-the-essentials.aspx

Smith, J. A. M. (2006-2010). HandsOn Jacksonville, Strategic Management Plan (Revised). Jacksonville, Florida.

Strand, R. (2010, November 6). Smashable nonprofit brands. In Branding. Retrieved January 25, 2011, from Ezine@articles: http://ezinearticles.com/?Smashable-Nonprofit-Brands&id=5336751