Why This Nonprofit Changed its Name

Print Share on LinkedIn More


June 11, 2014; WBUR 90.9 FM

A few months ago, NPQ ran a story about a number of groups in the disabilities field that changed their names from ones that reflected old values and perceptions (The Spastics Society) to ones that conveyed something new (Scope). The name changes sometimes temporarily reduced the profile of the organizations a bit, but also often brought a different kind of membership.

Now comes this story about the 142-year-old Lutheran Social Services, based in Worcester, Massachusetts, which will in September change its name to the Ascentria Care Alliance. The new name, says Angela Bovill, the president and CEO of the organization, is a combination of the words “ascension” and “trinity”; for them, it means “rising together.”

This, she says, puts forward the religious sensibilities at the root of the organization, but eliminates the perception of a group attached to a single religion, which was confusing to some community members and acted as a barrier for some foundations and corporations.

“In this day and age,” Bovill said, “when there’s such limited resources, if people are looking for reasons not to fund and they say, ‘Ah, this is too narrowly religious,’ it just gets pushed out of the pile.”

NPQ would love to hear from other readers who have been with an organization that changed its name.—Ruth McCambridge

  • Michael Wyland

    Just to clarify, this name change affects a specific LSS organization and its affiliates in New England. Other Lutheran Social Services organizations across the US are not affected. Lutheran Services of America lists more than 300 affiliated organizations on its web site, including more than 20 with the phrase “Lutheran Social Services” in their name: http://applications.lutheranservices.org/lsapublic/serviceproviders.aspx

  • Stephanie Meincke

    The Arkansas Nonprofit Alliance changed its name in September 2013. Previously, we were known as the Arkansas Coalition for Excellence for about six years. As the new CEO, I conducted an informal poll upon receiving the position. When I told people where I was going to work, the Arkansas Coalition for Excellence or ACE, I was met with blank stares. When pressed them to tell me what they thought ACE was, without exception, they mentioned education.

    We are actually the state’s nonprofit association. Our mission is to strengthen the nonprofit sector in Arkansas through training resources, technical assistance, advocacy, networking and convening. Clearly, we were missing an opportunity to draw people into our network. Our new name, the Arkansas Nonprofit Alliance, presents immediate information as to who we are and what we are about. And, with our tagline, Advancing High Impact Nonprofits, we are getting much better name recognition and buy-in from members, the media, stakeholders and funders.

  • Tricia

    Several years ago, I was hired at an organization that had a quaint name with a horrible acronym. I believe I was hired because I described why the name should be changed.
    Six years later, the name Steuben Churchpeople Against Poverty was changed to Arbor Development, Inc. Even though I had relocated across the country, I was delighted to see this move. (Googling the acronym “SCAP” is disaster.)
    Now I’m in a town that hosts an organization still using the title, “Literacy Volunteers.” This name is also quaint, and although it does reflect its mission and vision, it suggest that no donors are needed because it only uses volunteers. Has anyone changed the name of their “Literacy Volunteers” to another title?

  • Susan Ruderman

    Glad to see reporting on this change. I received a (slick) mailing announcing it a few weeks ago and wondered when there would be more conversation about it. My own reaction was mixed. While removing the sectarian reference does confirm that the organization formerly known as Lutheran Social Services is indeed non-sectarian in its delivery of service, the choice of “Ascentria” reminded me just a bit too much of “Altria,” the name chosen by Philip Morris when too many nonprofits were nervous about accepting funds from a tobacco company. So rebranding can often revitalize an organization when the new name is “better” than the old one. It remains to be seen whether Ascentria will prove more successful in attracting funds than LSS was.

  • Susan Ruderman

    In Boston, Associated Early Care and Education recently changed its name to “Nurtury.” This shift is consistent with the current trends in naming convention moving from longer to shorter and from descriptive to more evocative. I just hope no low-cost spay/neuter clinic ever opens with the name “Neutery” since confusion may ensue. . .