Five Things to Consider When Changing Your Association’s Name

Your association might need to make a name change at some point. Expect to have plenty of internal discussions—and to pitch the new name to the public.

You might have heard recently that the Washington Football Team, after years of controversy around its previous name, finally announced that it was changing its moniker to the Commanders.

The team had a lot of eyeballs on it when it made that call. Your association’s name change might not be front-page news, but you’ll still have ample discussions, including those about how it’s discussed with members and how to get everyone on board. Heck, you might have discussions about how the name plays out on social media. (One has to imagine the Commanders did.)

For associations thinking about changing their names, here are just a few of the considerations worth keeping in mind:

1. The name change could reflect shifting organizational priorities.

When the International Coach Federation changed its name to the International Coaching Federation a couple of years ago, it was the result of a change to the organization that made certain industry segments more important than they had been in the past, especially in parts of the world that were seeing a rise of internal professional coaching resources.

“We observed that the coaching was market changing, that coaching was being accepted and utilized in corporations and most recently in the social sector,” ICF CEO and Executive Director Magdalena Mook said in a 2020 interview.

2. Expect internal discussions, no matter how simple the change seems.

The former Firemen’s Association of the State of New York may have kept the FASNY acronym when it became the Firefighters’ Association of the State of New York in January, but it was still a decision that required in-depth discussion, as association officials told the Albany-based Times Union.

“We did not make this change lightly. We know and respect the great history of our association,” said First Vice President Edward Tase in comments to the newspaper. “We also know that our name, like our logos, symbols and actions, must represent today’s volunteer fire service.”

Despite the deep consideration around the shift, the vote to make the change was unanimous among FASNY’s board.

3. A name change can be timed to mark a special occasion.

In 2016, the Direct Marketing Association—whose roots and name dated back to 1917—decided to change its name to the Data & Marketing Association.

The timing was key: Ahead of its 100th anniversary, DMA reanalyzed its organizational mission and updated it as part of a distinct rebrand to include acknowledgment of “deeper consumer engagement and business value through the innovative and responsible use of data-driven marketing.”

“And with a mission this powerful, it became equally important to ensure DMA’s name and logo reflect where our industry is headed and where the association is headed,” said the group’s then-CEO, Tom Benton, in a 2016 interview with Associations Now.

4. It may make more sense to change the name of a program, not the whole organization.

Much like FASNY, the Boy Scouts of America reconsidered its name for the sake of inclusivity. But in 2018, the group decided to leave the primary organization’s name alone, instead choosing to rename its primary program Scouting USA, previously known as the Boy Scouts.

“We wanted to land on something that evokes the past but also conveys the inclusive nature of the program going forward,” said BSA’s former chief scout executive, Mike Surbaugh, at the time. “We’re trying to find the right way to say we’re here for both young men and young women.”

5. Anticipate how the name change will play out in the market.

Associations deal in jargon and acronyms. But if your nomenclature isn’t clear to the people it matters to most, it can create headaches for your organization and brand.

The USB Implementers Forum and the Wi-Fi Alliance, while maintaining their organizational names, have each rebranded their most prominent consumer-facing initiatives. The Wi-Fi Alliance saw that an upcoming standard that was to be known as 802.11ax wasn’t exactly user-friendly and changed its moniker to the more memorable Wi-Fi 6, eliminating potential confusion.

This logic can apply to organizational names too. For example, if your association primarily goes by its abbreviation, you might need to take extra steps to explain what it does to the consumer or member through other means.

(bieshutterb/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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