time-for-changeWhat do you do if the nature of your association changes and the old name no longer suffices? The National Association of Insurance Women (International) was founded in 1938 to distinguish itself in a male-dominated business, but by 2011 the membership, which was no longer limited to only women, was unwilling to accept a gender-specific identification. It decided to change its name to the International Association of Insurance Professionals to better reflect who it serves.

In some cases, it’s not the membership that changes but a merger shifts the focus of the organization and the public perception of what an association does. That’s why the Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association became known as the Texas Food and Fuel Association this year.

The process is not always an easy one. The first attempt to change the National Association of Insurance Women to a new name was voted down by long-time members at its national convention, according to Jane Densch, International Vice President. Notes Chris Newton, President of the Texas Food and Fuel Association, it requires long-term, open discussion of all stakeholders to reach consensus. The process, however, “can serve as a catalyst for strategic planning and new initiatives. It can help members and staff rethink the organization’s mission and purpose.”

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome is choosing the new name. Conducting a thorough name search for options and asking for suggestions from leadership and members can be a good start. Newton says, “Everyone’s suggestion for a name has merits and is well- intentioned. Deciding on the ‘right’ name takes time and has to have the buy-in of all stakeholders.” The new name may even go through a number of iterations before a consensus is reached.

Other challenges need to be factored in. Logos, letterheads, business cards, email addresses, websites, and bylaws all need to be changed, as well. In addition, says Newton, “The changes have to be communicated to people outside the association, including legislators and administrative agencies.” Densch also notes that old habits die hard. “IAIP doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as NAIW,” especially for long-time members used to the old name.

Despite the challenges, “changing an association’s name is an opportunity,” says Newton. “It helps ensure the association’s relevance to its members and other stakeholders. It will take more time than anyone can anticipate, but ultimately it is a worthwhile exercise.”