Developing messaging that works is a sweaty, laborious process. So it’s all the more frustrating when it turns out your message is exactly the same as used by an organization your target audiences are likely to know. If that’s the situation, you’re late to the party, and there’s no way that your org’s messaging will have the desired impact. When it’s heard, your base is likely to think of the other org. Beyond that, you may be infringing on copyright or trademark protections.
That’s what the Jewish Welcome Network(JWN) found out. When they submitted their tagline (Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.) to the 2009 Nonprofit Tagline Awards), voters rushed to let me know that the tagline had been used for years (and trademarked) by The people of The United Methodist Church. I put the Church and the Network together to settle the problem, and the JWN ceased using the tagline immediately.
But there’s a free and easy way to avoid this kind of mess. Just Google your draft taglines and other key phrases in your nonprofit’s messaging. If a local or regional organization — or a large, well-known national organization like the Methodists — is using it (or something very similar), best to start fresh.
Has this ever happened to your organization? If so, please scroll down to share your story in Comments.
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