Nonprofit Branding News – Why the YMCA Is Now the Y

yAddendum, 7/22/10: Here’s the YWCA’s response to the Y’s name change.

In case you haven’t heard, the YMCA is now the Y.  And believe it or not, the story is covered in the first section of today’s New York Times. Nonprofit marketing news doesn’t usually make the grade!

According to Kate Coleman, the Y’s chief marketing officer, this name change is motivated by the Y’s desire to use a name more closely matched with its mission and emphasizes the impact its programs have on youth, healthy living and communities.  This is definitely a critical focus to reflect in the Y’s branding but I’m not convinced that a single letter can do all that!

“It’s a way of being warmer, more genuine, more welcoming, when you call yourself what everyone else calls you,”  is the second reason for the change  Coleman cites. I don’t agree with that one either.

It is indeed important to know what your organization’s base thinks and what’s important to them. That’s the only way to identify the intersection of your organization’s needs and those of your base – the nexus of your brand. But that doesn’t mean your brand should be what your base is using as your name.

Already, the Y is set up to confuse audiences by asking that while affiliates should be referred to overall by the new name, a specific branch should be referred to the “South Mountain YMCA.” That’s a mess in the making.

I certainly understand the Y’s motivation to have its name more clearly reflect its current mission. That’s good marketing. And the same valid reasoning that moved the United Negro College Fund to change its name to UNCF – because it was serving more than students of a single race.

And the Y does a fantastic job of using the new brand to highlight what’s really important – its current programmatic focus.  No one cares that your branding is different but announcing your new focus is a great way to (implicitly) introduce your new brand. Take a look at this webcast of the Y’s press conference on the change.

But I envision the Y will face some real challenges with this name change, including:

  • What about the YWCA?
  • And the YMHA/YWHA (the Jewish Y)? New York City’s affiliate is already known as the 92nd Street Y.
  • The name “Y” makes me ask “why not?”

What are your thoughts on this name change? Does it work? Should  a nonprofit’s name be whatever it’s called by its base? Please share your comments below. Thanks!

P.S.  Enter today – The 2010 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards (a.k.a. The Taggies) close on July 28! Please enter today. And this year, for the first time, you can submit your organization’s program, fundraising campaign and/or and special event taglines, in addition to your organizational tagline.

Nancy Schwartz on July 12, 2010 in Branding and Messages | 12 comments
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  • Elaine Fogel

    Nancy, I think it’s a really smart move. It’s simple, succinct, and I like the creative. I hope that after time, they remove the acronym from the logo. The “Y” was originally designed as a men’s organization, and the YWCA followed. But, in essence, isn’t it all the same brand?

    As for the Jewish Ys, I thought they all re-branded to the JCC brand.

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Thanks for your comment, Elaine.

    The Jewish Ys were indeed folded under the JCC umbrella but many of them still retain the YMHA or YWHA designation. Talk about confusing!

  • Natalee Hill

    This reminds me of the Franklin Institute here in Philadelphia. For a time a few years back they tried to rebrand themselves simply as The Franklin. It was initially confusing and ultimately didn’t stick. I was never sure why they even did it. They changed it back to The Franklin Institute in the last year or so.

    Regards the Jewish Y’s – Here in Philadelphia the Gershman Y on South Broad Street still retains that name. To my understanding it never rebranded to the JCC.

  • former Y staffer

    Thanks for this. I was wondering what you thought of it. My thoughts are these:

    –If the brand is now “the Y,” why is the word “YMCA” on the side of the logo? It would help to have at least an FAQ with an explanation.
    –I also found it confusing to read that local Ys will continue to be known as YMCAs. That fact also contradicts other statements made by the national office about the local Ys adopting the new brand in the next five years. Perhaps some clarification is in order. e.g., “Local Ys are expected to adopt the new logo, while still being referred to as YMCAs” (or whatever is true to say).
    –I would like to know more about the different colors that can be used for the logo. Having the choice of five colors is unusual and I would love to hear more about the thinking behind it.
    –I would have loved to have learned more readily — at least in an FAQ — about who designed the logo and how local Ys were involved
    –I strongly applaud the new streamlined emphasis on youth, health, and social responsibility. For so long, the Y was weighted down by differing concepts — spirit, mind, body; kids, families, communities; caring; honesty, respect, and responsibility; and the umpteen different program areas. It was hard to explain what the Y was all about. The new triad of priorities is brilliant and encompasses all the Y does.

  • Dan

    Its said the new logo contradicts the new brand…doesn’t seem like they shortened anything. The old logo was a single why…solid and recognizable brand…now they have a not modern longer version which read “The Y YMCA”…it already looks dated. The colors are horrific. Everyone already refers to the YMCA as the Y…so what are they really doing here. “The Y YMCA” …it is mock-able. Someone should have told them they can change their brand essence and leave their logo intact. Guess they put their trust and money into the wrong lowest bidding brand agency ;(. Way to miss the mark.

  • Keith Beasley

    Having “seen this movie” more than a time or two I wouldn’t be too quick to bag on the branding agency. I might imagine that if there were ever a modern era rebranding that was committee-d to death, you’re looking at it.

    I’m also fairly confident that what you’re seeing is a transitional mark and the (as Dan correctly referred to it) mock-able, smaller YMCA text will likely be removed after 18 months. It’s similar to the FedEx/Kinkos merger four years ago. They kept Kinkos name in there during the transitional period to maximize the brand equity of both companies and not to completely confuse the public. Once everyone was comfy they transitioned to simply FedEx Office. I would imagine their new mark will eventually become simply the “Y” and match their name soon enough. Sadly, after that transition they’ll still be left with an infantile color scheme and a mushy gradient issue though.

  • Nancy Schwartz

    I’m right with you, Keith, on the point that transition when rebranding is key. Otherwise you run the risk of losing your audience.

    Thanks for making that important point.

  • YWCA staffer

    In response to Elaine’s comment: “The “Y” was originally designed as a men’s organization, and the YWCA followed. But, in essence, isn’t it all the same brand?”

    I am not sure if you are implying that the YMCA and the YWCA are the same brand or just all YMCA’s but if so, that is certainly not the case in our city. Some YMCA/YWCAs globally are very tightly interwoven, but in our city the YWCA provides very different services than the YMCA. Although they may have originated from the same intial idea/background the two organizations have evolved very differently, and our concern is that we already have confusion from people referring to us (the YWCA) as “the Y”. The YMCA’s primary focus is on health & recreation; our main programming falls under housing, domestic violence rpevention, children & families and educaiton/employment programs.

    We have been working hard on branding ourselves as the YWCA as opposed to the YMCA, and this new branding change by “the Y” could be either a blessing or curse. I foresee more people simply referring to both organizations as the Y, but perhaps I am wrong and it will help distinguish the YWCA as a seperate organization. Here’s hoping!

  • Where I live the constituency the YMCA serves is neither largely young, nor male, nor exclusively Christian. Our Y is family focused, and women have been the majority program participants for a number of years. The Y is also a hangout for retirees. Doesn’t bringing your brand in line with what you are and what you do make sense?

  • Elaine Fogel

    YWCA staffer: I think you describe a real branding dilemma. Internally, the YWCA and YMCA are different, but to the public, the “Y” is a brand all to itself. The men and women need to figure this one one at the global level and translate it down to local orgs. Otherwise, the confusion will continue and both organizations will feel the effects, I’m afraid.

  • Great tips Nancy! As a new staffer at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, I sent an e-mail to all my Great Strides walk team captains to introduce myself and my connection to the cause. It’s helped a lot because participants feel they got to know me before we’ve had face to face meetings.

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Fantastic technique, Danielle. Little things like this mean a LOT!

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