Money & Business

Nonprofit Named ISIS Begins Rebranding Process

By / Jan 6, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

The International Species Information System, a nonprofit providing software to zoos and aquariums, is changing its name—and it’s not because it merely wants to freshen its image.

It wasn’t until recently that using the acronym for the International Species Information System in public or on luggage tags has turned heads. The group, which has gone by ISIS for more than 40 years, will now change its name because of its association with the terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“At minimum you get a chuckle; in a lot of cases you get people questioning, looking at you in a funny way,” CEO Jim Guenter said. “So, in order to avoid some of that nuance and challenge publically, we just needed to move on and find a new name since the name doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.”

The group—which provides software to member aquariums, zoos, associations, and rehabilitation centers to log animal information—hasn’t experienced a large impact on business or member relations because many of their members are familiar with its use of ISIS, Guenter said. But it has caused awkwardness, a perception issue large enough to warrant a change.

The decision, however, was not an easy one to come to. The name ISIS is part of the organization’s history and is already ingrained in the minds of its members and internal team. Because of this, Guenter suspects it will take some time for the new name to stick.

Despite the nonprofit’s unique situation, rebranding will follow the same common process other companies undergo to change the way they’re perceived, said Rob Rankin, president of Clarity Coverdale Fury, the marketing firm leading the rebranding efforts.

But the process of choosing a new name, logo, and web domain—which is currently Isis.org—will pose additional challenges. It requires money and resources originally budgeted elsewhere as well as time to rebuild equity with partners and market the new name.

While the negative association with the name ISIS was thrown on the International Species Information System, there weren’t many alternatives to renaming.

“In this instance, it’s not a matter of if they need to do it,” Rankin said. “They need to do it.” He added that this group isn’t the only one facing the problem; other organizations using the name ISIS, including a large pharmaceuticals company in California, have also had to rebrand themselves.

Guenter said the need to rename the organization eventually became obvious to the team and its board of trustees, made up of leaders from its member groups. He noted that American board members understood the urgency required in changing the name more so than the members from countries whose media use other terms to refer to the terrorist group.

“They feel like we had the name first, and we should be able to keep it,” he said. “But obviously this is much bigger than a 25-person nonprofit organization in Bloomington, Minnesota.”

Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. More »

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