The most self-destructive, revenue-killing act nonprofit organizations can make is one a lot of them are tempted to do: A name change.
Typically, a name change hurts fundraising. Sometimes catastrophically.
Cascade Land Conservancy, a venerable and much-liked environmental organization headquartered in Seattle, changed its name to Forterra.
No, that is not a typo. Yes, it does sound like a new erectile dysfunction drug.
And yes, it's likely to be a fundraising disaster.
The reasoning for the change is given in the press release. It seems the Cascade Land Conservancy opened an office in a county that has no actual Cascade Mountains in it. That and the fact that they have many programs that are not located in or on those mountains unleashed the dreaded "our name limits us" virus.
That's what explains statement like these that appear in the organization's literature about the virtues of the new name:
- "a testament to our organization's continued dedication to the region"
- "represents our holistic approach to land conservation"
- "leaves us room to continue evolving to serve the needs of this dynamic region"
And then, the icing on the cake -- here's what the branding expert whose company visited this disaster on the organization, pro bono, had to say:
Simply stated, Forterra means they are for the earth. It is an open vessel that allows them to continue to adapt to the needs of the community and effectively advance their important and broad mission.
Ah, the old "open vessel" gambit, used to explain something that's meaningless: Don't worry about the fact that it's meaningless; it can mean anything!
Problem is, it actually means nothing.
Just in case there was any doubt that this is an ill-conceived and poorly executed project, take a look at the new logo. It makes the confusing name even more confusing.
That "E" is actually a fancy ampersand. Which makes it look like the name isn't the somewhat nonsensical Forterra, but the completely wacko FORT & RRA.
If the good people at Cascade Land Conservancy/Forterra were listening to me (they aren't), here's what I'd tell them: It's not too late to escape the disaster. You can go back. Hardly anyone knows you've changed your name, so embarrassment and cost of switching back will be low. A lot lower than the revenue crash that awaits if you stay this silly course.
And for those considering a name change: Think twice before you do it. It will probably not go well, no matter what the pro-bono experts tell you.