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Public Involvement Network News

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For Nonprofits, Public Involvement Starts with a Name

Developed by Catie Ferrara, NCEI Intern

Children's Health Environmental Coalition logoà Healthy Child Healthy World logo

In the search for public support for under-addressed causes, nonprofits can distribute high-quality and informational outreach materials, but many recipients never get past the letterhead - making split-second judgments about organizations based on their names and logos.

When the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition revamped its image and changed its name to Healthy Child Healthy World, it reaped the public support and financial benefits of this subconscious decision process.

The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC) was created to inform the public of the presence of toxic substances that could harm children. Beginning in 1991 as the Colette Chuda Environmental Fund, it memorialized the four-year-old daughter of James and Nancy Chuda, a victim of nonhereditary cancer. After learning that Nancy’s exposure to pesticides - even prior to her pregnancy - likely triggered their daughter’s cancer, the Chudas committed to teaching others about environmental hazards through CHEC.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has made “ensuring that our children are not exposed to toxins and pollution or other environmental threats in their homes, in their schools, or anywhere else” a goal of the Agency. In a March 2009 speech to the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee, Jackson acknowledged, “We need to step up our efforts to assess and manage chemical risks that are particularly harmful to children. Early life exposures can have tragic, life-long effects and we must be diligent in preventing any possible dangers.”

During its first decade, CHEC made strides in this important field. However, the organizations’ convoluted name and ambiguous acronym prevented it from gaining much traction with members of the public who were not specifically searching for a group with that mission.

When Christopher Gavigan became CEO and executive director of CHEC in 2005, he harbored concerns about the effectiveness of the name. “The words children, health, environmental and coalition have clear meanings, but they don’t necessarily add up to something meaningful,” he told Free-Range Thinking. “The acronym suggested everything from writing a check to the Czech Republic.”

Because of the Chudas’ successes, the sensitive background of CHEC’s founding, and the logo based on Colette’s image, Gavigan acted carefully as he proposed altering the group’s name and logo during his first year as CEO. By 2006, though, Gavigan’s concerns were understood, and an anonymous donor provided funding for CHEC’s work with the branding firm Cronan.

Cronan Exit EPA Disclaimer is a branding and design strategy firm based in Berkeley, California. Consultants Michael Cronan and Karin Hibma are behind such successes as TiVo and Amazon’s Kindle. When they started their work with CHEC, Cronan and Hibma took time to understand CHEC’s background and mission. “Cronan didn’t tell us we needed a new name or even a new logo,” said Gavigan. “They tactfully listened and gathered information and let us see what we had.”

Through the interview process, Cronan determined that “CHEC had no ownership of its own name,” Michael Cronan told Free-Range Thinking. Despite there being only one Children’s Health Environmental Coalition, other groups claimed various parts of the name, and the acronym CHEC was being used widely.

Hibma told Free-Range Thinking that CHEC’s lackluster name failed at a basic level in that it did not communicate the Chudas’ moving story to its intended audience.

After their interviews, Cronan and Hibma presented CHEC with a list of ninety name suggestions, and several questions to help them make a decision: “Is it unique enough that we can own it? Does it identify who we are? When people hear it, does it sound familiar (which is a good thing) and is it memorable? And perhaps most importantly for an organization that Cronan believed was ‘on the verge of launching a movement’: Is it a name people can rally behind?” These questions helped Gavigan and his colleagues choose six finalist names.

Simultaneously, Cronan assisted CHEC in coming up with a revitalized logo, which serves an important role to any nonprofit.

“A logo is to a company what a face is to a person,” Michel Tuan Pham, a professor of marketing at the Columbia Business School, told the New York Times in May 2009. “It’s hard to memorize facts about a person when you only know their name but you haven’t seen their face.” So logos remind consumers about companies’ traits and pluck at emotions — “the glue that ties all the information about the brand name together,” Mr. Pham said.

“The previous figure felt like a figurine with no depth or interest,” said Gavigan. “Cronan wanted to give that child personality and to represent all children.” With that in mind, the logo went from a silhouetted figure surrounded by the circuitous arrows synonymous with recycling to a brightly-color smiling child’s face. The new figure appeared more relatable and conveyed a more hopeful and positive attitude.

After six months of in-depth work with Cronan, CHEC revealed its refreshed logo along with its new name – Healthy Child Healthy World Exit EPA Disclaimer– to the public in March 2007. The nonprofit was also lucky enough to adopt the URL healthychild.org, which Cronan said was “a real triumph in the world of naming.” They set the tagline “Creating Healthy Environments for Children” in reference to the organization’s previous acronym and its history.

The time spent on the rebranding process has really paid off: In the proceeding two years, Healthy Child Healthy World’s membership increased 200%, and website traffic increased 700%. Public fundraising events have not been necessary since this new stride of recognition, though these events previously brought in needed revenue, as they do for many nonprofits. Partnerships recently fostered with WebMD and Whole Foods have also helped to further spread Healthy Child Healthy World’s mission.

Gavigan told Free-Range Thinking that he thinks “at least fifty percent” of these recent successes have been generated by the new name, logo, and website. “Now, whenever we go out to talk about the organization,” he said, “the new brand offers a clear sense of what we value and the impact we focus on creating.”

Information in this article came from:
Andy Goodman, Free-Range Thinking (PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer
Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, “Remarks to the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee, As Prepared”
Bill Marsh, New York Times article on corporate logos Exit EPA Disclaimer

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