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Is your organization’s name a string of letters?

Unfortunately too many organizations are poorly named. Their name came about by literally describing who the were (The Organization For Doing Good) which was too long for people to keep saying and got abbreviated (TOFDG). The original lengthy descriptive name ends up being said and written as initials. This can present a number of challenges in getting people to notice, remember and connect with your organization.

First, these abbreviations are hard to recall. A string of letters doesn’t mean much to people who aren’t familiar with your organization. People love to point to IBM, UPS, ABC as “proof” it works. They seem to forget how much money was spent on advertising, and how many years went into making sure we remember these letters. None of the organizations we’ve worked with have this kind of budget.


Another problem is consistency. Sometimes the whole organization’s name is used and fully spelled out, and sometimes it’s written or said with just the initials. This inconsistency doesn’t take advantage of the effect of repetition—that you need to see or hear something multiple times before you start to recognize it and it starts to feel familiar. So now instead of people hearing the same name 10 times, they hear a name 5 times, and a string of initials 5 times. It will take a lot longer for people to remember either one.

It’s not unique. Type any 3 or 4 letters into Google and see what comes up. Even ABC stands for multiple organizations: Associated Builders & Contractors, Alcoholic Beverage Control, American Bird Conservancy. The American Broadcast Company ranks top on the search, the Bird Conservancy was on page 5. If you are on page 5 when people search for your string of initials….are they going to find you?

While a full name change might truly be the best solution in the long run, that strikes paralyzing fear in many organizations. Sometimes it’s reluctance of the board, legacy, fear of alienating people who do know the name, or being overwhelmed at the amount of work a name change would require. Whatever the reason, sometimes it’s just not possible to commit to a full name change.

What can you do if you are stuck with initials for an organization name? Here are 3 things that can help make it more memorable and more relatable :

Add a tagline.

A tagline can give people something to connect to. It’s hard to feel emotion from a bunch of letters. A tagline is a really effective way to communicate something about your organization. Especially when an abbreviation doesn’t mean anything to a new viewer. For example: If you heard about an organization called ‘Lake Champlain International’ or “LCI”….what comes to mind? Does it have something to do with travel? Business? News?

When paired with their tagline, you immediately get a sense of who they are. Clean Water. Healthy Fish. Happy People. I understand what they care about, it’s a friendly and upbeat tone. I want that for them—this gives me a positive feeling about LCI.

[featured]Lake Champlain International (LCI)
Tagline: Clean Water. Healthy Fish. Happy People.[/featured]

Create a new logo

If you have been using a text only logo, you are missing an opportunity. Adding a visual element to your logo can give people some idea about your organization. It will bring in some personality instead of a generic string of letters or words. It also provides a memory hook. It is easier for people to remember pictures than it is to remember words. And it is much easier than remembering a string of initials.

Here the aashe, or The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education adds some visual interest: movement in the shape (it could be book, bridge, leaping forward) and color that transitions to green for the sustainability focus. When I see this logo again, it will be much easier to recall than seeing “aashe”.

Alter what the abbreviation stands for

This won’t be easy and won’t work in most cases. But it could be the perfect blend of old into new. What if you could substitute words that would make the initials more meaningful?

The Lakewood Area Shelter Association (LASA) started in Lakewood, Washington to get families into permanent housing and to prevent recurrent homelessness.

Executive Director Janne Hutchins described a few challenges with that name in this article at

They found the word “shelter” was causing confusion. Some people thought LASA was an animal shelter and showed up looking to adopt pets. For some the word “shelter” conjured up a negative image of rows of people on cots in a large shared space. Still others thought it was a place they could show up at the end of the day and have a place to sleep for the night.

In addition, they were no longer just serving people in Lakewood. Now they worked throughout Pierce County.

LASA officially changed their name to Living Access Support Alliance to better reflect who the organization is and what they do.


When The Arc went through a rebrand, they decided to bring in all 3 elements..

First they altered what the name stood for: they completely dropped the association of words to their initials. From 1953-81 They were the National Association for Retarded Citizens (NARC) 1981-1992, ARC stood for ‘Association for Retarded Citizens’. The use of the word ‘retarded’ became demeaning and derogatory. In 1992 They changed their name to The Arc of the United States. The letters are no longer an abbreviation, they are simply called ‘The Arc’.

They added the tagline ‘Achieve with us’.

And they updated their logo to “see the energy and determination The Arc brings to supporting and embracing people with I/DD…”.


Read more about their process here.

So if you have a name that is getting lost in a sea of abbreviations, think about ways to make it easier for people to connect to. Give them something they can start to notice, recognize and remember you by. Try one of these suggestions and bring in a tagline, a new logo or a new updated meaning.

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