Nonprofit branding is more than a name or a slick tag line.

In the November 29, 2012 edition of The Chronicle of Philanthropy there was an article about how a chapter of Gilda’s Club changed its name to the Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin. The executive director’s rationale was that more and more young people were born after Gilda Radner’s death and few knew who she was.

I grew up watching Gilda Radner. Her Roseanne Roseannadanna skit on Saturday Night Live was one of the reasons I stayed up late to watch (that along with John Belushi — “Cheese Burger. Cheese Burger”). I can understand that there is a whole generation who do not know who she is, but when she got sick — many of us recognized that she was missing. When she publicly announced she had cancer and fought it, we rooted for her. And, when she died,  we felt a sense of loss. Gilda’s Club captured her spirit and channeled it into their work. Her life and the cause became permanently connected. When my friend Mark was being treated for cancer, he and his wife Vicki found great comfort and support at Gilda’s Club. When I found out that they were going there, I knew immediately what they would find even though I never read a brochure or had gone on their website.

This desire for a name that explains everything (i.e. Cancer Support Community) may end up working against organizations that wish to pursue this strategy. Generic names are like waterlogged sponges, they do not soak up meaning, giving audiences no opportunity to bring their own experiences when they encounter it. It is also important to recognize that no name is the first or final message for any organization. It is an essential component of nonprofit branding, but its not the be all to end all. A name needs to be part of a larger strategy to help connect stakeholders and the community to the cause.

Online petitions have already been launched asking the organization to not change their name. In an earlier post, I had written about how external stakeholders play a significant role in nonprofit branding and how social media has made all nonprofit brands — public brands. But as social media began gearing up to take this issue on, another message came across on Facebook. An excerpt from something Bill Murray (someone a lot of people know) had said was being circulated about a party he was at with Gilda. He wrote:

nonprofit branding

“Gilda showed up and she’d already had cancer and gone into remission and then had it again, I guess. Anyway she was slim. We hadn’t seen her in a long time. And she started doing, “I’ve got to go,” and she was just going to leave, and I was like, “Going to leave?” It felt like she was going to really leave forever. So we started carrying her around, in a way that we could only do with her. We carried her up and down the stairs, around the house, repeatedly, for a long time, until I was exhausted. Then Danny did it for a while. Then I did it again. We just kept carrying her; we did it in teams… And that went on for more than an hour—maybe an hour and a half—just carrying her around and saying, “She’s leaving! This could be it! Now come on, this could be the last time we see her. Gilda’s leaving, and remember that she was very sick—hello?”… And because these people were really funny, every person we’d drag her up to would just do like five minutes on her, with Gilda upside down in this sort of tortured position, which she absolutely loved. She was laughing so hard we could have lost her right then and there.”

Memories are hard to part with. They run deep.