How a Nonprofit Name Change Generated Attention and Momentum (Case Study)

Q: What is Legal Momentum?

A: The current name for NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, introduced more than 3 decades of use for the original name.

I first heard about the name change via a nonprofit client who thought that Legal Momentum’s announcement letter to colleagues (others in the NYC nonprofit community, plus) was a very strong example of proactive communications. He was right.

As a matter of fact, the letter was so strong that I decided to follow up with Maureen McFadden, Legal Momentum’s Vice President of Communications, to learn more about the process — and ultimate impact — of the name change.

CHALLENGE: No One Got the Name, or the Focus

Even with a 34-year record of positive action, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund’s growth was held back by two seemingly impenetrable barriers. To begin with, there was perpetual confusion in the media about what the Fund was, and its relationship with NOW. “No matter how successful we were in getting media coverage, nine out of ten times they got our name wrong,” says McFadden. “As a result, we didn’t have any clips.”

You can bet that if the media get your organization’s name wrong, time and again, that your target audiences do too. And that’s a real barrier to building relationships and brand.

“In addition, audiences didn’t know what ‘legal defense and education fund’ meant,” continues McFadden. “They asked us for education grants or direct legal services. The only audiences who did know who we were (and what we did) were long-time feminists and those with whom we had long relationships on Capitol Hill.”

Since the Fund was striving to extend its reach to women born after the civil rights era, and to ensure all audiences were aware of the full range of its programs – including new initiatives such as lobbying for universal access to child care – these problems had to be solved.

After much deliberation, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund decided that a name change was the communications strategy most likely to boost its ongoing evolution and outreach to broader audiences. “We needed a name that said who we were and what we did, while enabling us to continue to grow,” says McFadden.

STRATEGY: In-Depth Analysis of History, Vision and Audience Perspectives Generates Powerful New Name

Knowing that a name change is a major initiative, and one that can be very stressful (in terms of effort and emotions), the Fund decided to seek outside help. So McFadden and her colleagues applied for, and secured, pro bono assistance from the Interbrand (a leading branding agency) Foundation. With the help of a powerful and dedicated Interbrand team, the naming process was soon underway.

This is how it unfolded:

Step One: In-depth organizational probing.

The branding team learned about the Fund’s vibrant history, including the leaders who built and sustained the Fund since its inception. Discussion focused on what the Fund once was, what it was at present and what it wanted to be in the future.

Step Two: Focused audience research, with current audiences and those the Fund wanted to reach in the future.

After extensive discussions with Fund staff past and present, Interbrand reached out to other key audiences (funders, colleague organizations, and others with whom the Fund had long-term relationships, as well as women that they felt should know more about the Fund).

Step Three: Training of staff and other key stakeholders on the development, impact and launch of a new name.

The Interbrand team wisely ensured that the Fund staff, and other stakeholders such as board members, were prepared to select the right name, and to support its launch to generate the greatest amount of awareness possible. Most importantly, they were trained to know how they wanted to be viewed.

Step Four: Creative brand building, and a grueling final selection process.

The branding team, armed with its understanding of the Fund’s strategic approach to using the law to defend, motivate and inspire women – and its knowledge of audience perceptions – went to work. After an intensive creative process, they came back to NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund with 100 options.

As a result of the training they had received, the Fund staff were able cut to the final 15 contenders quite easily. The final decision was more wrenching. Legal Momentum (LM) recommended to the board as the name that best conveyed the organization’s mission – to advance the rights of women and girls by using the power of the law and creating innovative public policy – while enabling its evolution.

Once the board agreed, Interbrand went on to create the look and feel to support the new name.

Step Five: Proactive, engaging communications strategy to launch the new name.

The next step was the crafting of a campaign to assure long-time audiences that the organization’s mission and relationship with NOW remained in place, while capitalizing on the attention to trumpet its forward motion to “build a world where women have the right and the ability to fully participate.”

  • Developed key messages around the name change (focused on LM’s growth and change), and trained staff on delivering them:
    • Core message: “We changed our name but not our mission.”
    • Prepared FAQs for staff members.
  • Launched comprehensive communications campaign to capitalize on opportunity to engage audiences:
    • Message from the President and Chair
      • Featured in LM’s newsletter, In Brief.
      • Highlighted on the LM website via a headline on every page on the site.
    • Letter to colleague organizations.
    • Postcard announcement, with photo of staff with signs reading “Legal Momentum,” sent to all staff.
    • Name change announcement flyer in all direct mail pieces (fundraising, event invitations, etc.).
    • Revision of collateral (stationery, printed materials), signage, website and newsletter to incorporate new brand (name and look and feel).
    • Updating of all voicemail messages, and the script for answering the phone.
    • Formal note cards, emphasizing name change, for staff use (focus on sending to legislators).
    • Annual report focused on name change (as an opportunity to feature LM’s growth and change).

RESULTS: Clearer Understanding, Increased Support, Broader Reach

McFadden is pleased to report great results from the name change. “We haven’t received one media mention that has the name wrong,” she notes.

Moreover, she is pleased with LM’s success in shaping coverage to feature the phrase, “a woman’s legal and advocacy group.”

Established audiences have responded very positively. McFadden and her colleagues were prepared for long-term individual donors, such as feminists who have been supporters for a very long time, to dislike the new name. Instead, the change energized audiences, generating a lot of feedback, much of it positive.

The name change also provided Legal Momentum with a compelling focus for a major fundraising lunch with guests Senators Kennedy and Clinton. The program featured the name change announcement, supplemented by a fascinating video on LM history. Funders and friends in attendance responded strongly.

Legal Momentum continues to communicate about its name change today, a year later, through its website. The change clearly enabled the organization to dissolve the barriers that were getting in its way. Today, Legal Momentum is indeed building momentum.

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