What’s in a Name? How Propel Nonprofits Chose our new Name

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For the past 10 months, Nonprofits Assistance Fund and MAP for Nonprofits have been working our way down an extensive to-do list that comes with merging two organizations into one. We legally became a single, unified organization on January 1, 2017, and we moved into our fabulous new home in Minneapolis overlooking the Mississippi River on June 20.

The to-do list was full of technical and logistical challenges — such as setting up a new accounting system — and fun, people-oriented tasks, such as learning each other’s Strengths and preferred ways of communicating. We melded our boards, reworked policies and procedures, set up a new payroll system, and planned and arranged our new, shared space.

As we worked our way down the to-do list, we got closer and closer to the neon red line item toward the end: Choose a new name.

Why didn’t we put that item closer to the top of the list? Because a name is a powerful thing, and we wanted to get it right. In order to know what to call ourselves, we needed to spend a little time getting to know ourselves first.

As soon as NAF and MAP merged, it quickly became obvious that the number one thing that’s fundamental to both legacy organizations is that we love nonprofits. That’s no overstatement — we love them. That creates a certain energy. Being surrounded by 30 colleagues who love nonprofits is kind of amazing. People spend their lunch breaks together talking about nonprofit board structures and nonprofit balance sheets with enthusiasm and excitement, or comparing notes from nonprofit conferences. We share what we call “mission moments” with each other and cheer for our nonprofit clients’ achievements.

Seeing and feeling this passion and genuine enthusiasm helped us form a sense of our identity as an organization — exactly what we needed to figure out before we could land on a name.

We worked with LEVEL Brand to come up with our new identity. They helped us understand the difference between a descriptive name and an evocative/aspirational one. A descriptive name (such as Nonprofits Assistance Fund or Bob’s Upholstery Cleaners) basically states what you do, while an evocative name (such as Prepare + Prosper, a local organization that provides tax assistance and financial services to people of limited means) gives a more abstract sense of the organization’s aspirations.

We liked the idea of going the evocative/aspirational route. There were a few different feelings we wanted our new name to evoke:

  • We’re supportive and helpful;
  • We’re there for nonprofits—we have their backs, we’re in their court;
  • We’re also an ambassador and advocate, sometimes urging nonprofits to ask bigger (and sometimes harder) questions.

We decided we wanted a real English word with a known meaning (as opposed to a portmanteau, or combination of two words, like Pinterest, which is a blend of “pin” and “interest”). And we were all agreed on not wanting any more acronyms.

We ended up going through three rounds of the naming process with LEVEL before we found the right one. Among the options that wound up on the cutting room floor were Transcend, Ignite, Oasis, and Good Works. None of them seemed quite right. Working with branding experts was a smart decision. The team was inquistive enough to help us identify exactly what was off about each name in the reject pile (i.e. Ignite wasn’t right, because we’re not supplying the spark in the nonprofits we serve — we’re supporting the people there who do provide the ignition.)

Eventually, we landed on Propel Nonprofits. “Propel” has energy—it’s a verb, it moves you forward, and when you add “Nonprofits” it’s the perfect combination of descriptive and evocative. We also love the tagline: Power Your Mission, which is our why. We don’t do the work we do because we think we’re cool, we do it because the missions of the organizations we work with are cool.

It’s so satisfying to have arrived at this milestone of our merger to-do list with this perfect name that brings us all together as one organization, with one identity that coalesces us around our shared purpose. I can’t imagine being called anything else.

Now the only thing left on the list is to do the work and deliver on our mission. Now that sounds fun.

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