3-2 Your identity

What do we look like to other people?

Now that you've created a vision and mission statement, you've achieved your identity, right? Wrong-O! 99.9% of people will not be able to get past your name to even consider your vision or mission statement. In other words, your identity is almost exclusively created by your name. We live in an age where there is wariness of men's organizations, and even fear of what they are or could be 'up to'.

Some groups want to be secretive and exclusive, closed off to outside inspection (the 'boys club' mentality). The difficulty here of course is that closed organizations can be manipulated to the benefit of a small cadre, or even one man, and not really be established to support their fellow man at all. Some could be rip-off artists who shield themselves in secrecy. Some organizations are reactionary, and repressive of women's issues, and therefore judged to be unbalanced in themselves.

What I'm saying is that by being identifiable as a men's organization, it will immediately conjure up all sorts of associations in the minds of others. Of course there are many people who support the notion and actuality of men's self-help organizations, but perhaps it is fair to say there are many more, unaware of men's issues, who are more likely to react negatively and be dismissive of who you are in the current social climate. So there is some very real 'selling' to be done, to win people over to your point of view, that these issues are important and deserve at least acknowledgement.

In this climate, what's the best thing you can do to avoid this negativity and plant a positive seed in people's minds regarding your organization? Simply this: don't 'hide' behind a non-descriptive name. It should be clear, descriptive, easily and immediately understood. Don't ask people to work too hard to decipher your name! This is your first and last sales tool; you will win or lose more members and supporters (read 'donations') with your name than with anything else you do (barring scandal and sensational events) in the normal course of events.

Here's some examples

Vancouver Men's Evolvement Network (allows the acronym - Vancouver M.E.N. cute, right?) - except that 'Evolvement' means what? - it confuses, diverts, and is non-descriptive - do men need to evolve?

What about 'Network' - is this a business organization?

WE know what we do (mostly put men in men's groups - also have a help line and newsletter), but it is not apparent from our name - any time we have media contact we end up spending valuable sound-bites explaining our name when we could be focusing on issues. Besides, we don't even know what the name means… Of itself, it is almost meaningless - this is not the way to win support or members. What are potential supporters contributing to? What are potential members joining? Hell, we might have had money pouring in the door for the good work we do, if governments/foundations/philanthropists could figure out what the heck we do.

Unless you can come up with a catchy phrase that isn't a 'groaner' and is memorable, it is safer to stick with a clear, descriptive name, even if it is mundane, such as: Vancouver Men's Support Groups Association.

No cute acronym, but it is clear and descriptive, if a little bland. We haven't lost anyone to confusion or having to work too hard, most people know what a support group is, and recognize its value to people in need. It is neutral - non-confrontational and doesn't 'hide'.

When are you deciding on a name - consider 2 or 3 candidates, and do a survey. Ask a series of individuals what they think each name means, and which they prefer and why, and compile the answers for later discussion. When I did this with the two names shown 9 out of 10 people preferred the second name, for the reasons outlined.

Other considerations

A logo can help promote organizational identity - have a competition amongst your members to design a logo. It can be a 'feel-good' thing with immediate visual impact and instant recognition. People will do a double take on a flyer with an appealing or intriguing logo where they might have just skipped over a text based document.

If you do wish to become a registered society, or charitable organization, there are legal restrictions on the names you can use. You may have to pay for a 'name search' to ensure your chosen name doesn't conflict with another organization. Then you will have to pay to register your name. Restrictions are even tighter for charitable societies, for instance Revenue Canada (which grants charitable status in Canada) doesn't like the word 'network', and seemingly may refuse charitable status for a society using that word. Time to do some research if you are planning to go down that route; restrictions will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. (See section on Forming a Society - Charitable Status)