The De-Institutionalization of America (Or SimplifyUS)

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A recent article I ran across in The New York Times explores the issue of nonprofits undergoing name changes and re-branding in an attempt to retain their relevance and provide more accurate monikers for the work they do. Some of these nonprofits began 50-100 years ago when long, formal and complicated names likely contributed to an organization’s perceived legitimacy and ethos. A number of nonprofit organizations from that era have very governmental-sounding names, which probably worked in their favor at the time since more people still trusted the government back then.

Blame it on Gen X, who I like to think of as the no-bullshit generation, or Millennials, who seem to think nonprofits should be as hip in their marketing as multi-billion dollar commercial brands – America is experiencing a significant shift in the significance of nomenclature. All types of companies, from hot tech startups to government agencies and long-established nonprofits, are having to embrace this shift.

A great example from the aforementioned article is the Council of Senior Centers and Services of New York City Inc. The organization doesn’t actually manage senior centers, rather it “advocates against the abuse of older adults, helps them apply for rental and food assistance and lobbies for affordable housing on their behalf.” Since renaming is hard, the natural option would be to just use the acronym, right? Well, C.S.C.S. doesn’t quite have a ring to it either.

To more accurately represent what the organization does and to have a more memorable name, they re-branded as LiveOn NY. I typically poke fun at companies that just run words together for their names (I really want to have a startup called MyAwesomeStartUply.com). But, in this case, it works quite well and even clarifies the cadence and meaning of the name.

We’re seeing this shift to simplifying identity for organizations for the obvious reason: it’s beneficial to have short, memorable names that are descriptive of the services an organization offers. But it also belies a larger cultural desire for a de-bureaucratization of our institutions and a movement toward decentralization of power. In our crowd-sourced, crowed-funded culture of the empowered consumer, empowered donor and empowered advocate, even nonprofit organizations have to deliver a simple, straightforward message that captures the ever-fleeting attention of today’s information-inundated consumer.

So, just in case this becomes a widely-discussed issue, I’ll go ahead and coin the term for the movement: SimplifyUS.

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