What’s in a name? If you’re a Point Reyes wildlife conservation group, names matter a lot. While the scientists and advocates at the Petaluma-based PRBO Conservation Science are usually more focused on Latinate scientific taxonomy of birds and seals, they say they now see one of their core challenges as their own self-identification.
That’s why PRBO Conservation Science, whose initials are derived from the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, is now changing its name for the second time—to Point Blue Conservation Science—to “improve how we convey what we do so we can expand our base of support and have a greater impact,” the organization said in a statement.
The name, which was announced last month along with a new tagline, logo, magazine and website, was developed by the board and staff over a year and a half, according to PRBO President and CEO Ellie Cohen.
When the announcement was posted on Facebook, the over 100 comments posted were largely negative (39 people also liked the announcement).
“Frankly, I don’t think many people hear ‘Point Blue’ and somehow intuit that it refers to an organization that is pointing the way forward to a healthy, blue planet.’ To me and many others, it is meaningless, corporate, and could be a savings account, bathroom cleaner, or something else,” a user identified as Jason Crotty wrote on Facebook. “My concern is that the Board is not up to the task. Rather than making real changes to improve its profile in this space, it is proposing another re-branding. The serial re-branding distances PRBO from its history, accomplishments, and existing name recognition, seemingly contrary to the stated goals.”
This is the second rebranding for the group, which was founded in 1965 as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory and is dedicated is ecological restoration, advocacy and scientific research. In 1991, the group changed its name to PRBO. “My guess is that it took a year or two for people to feel comfortable,” Ms. Cohen said.
But the name change, which takes effect in June, is intended to reflect the fact that the group’s work with birds has gradually evolved to focus on the unhealthy climatic and ecological conditions that affect all living creatures. They also need to increasingly reach out to policy makers, including local, state and federal land managers, according to Ms. Cohen. “We understand that change can be challenging for people,” Ms. Cohen said. “People have heartfelt connection to whatever part of our history connected them.”
Howard Adam Levy, a New York-based consultant to nonprofit organizations on naming strategies, said organizations can never satisfy everyone with their branding choices, but what is important is for them to satisfy enough donors “to make a significant positive difference in the impact of the organization going forward to make the name change worthwhile.”
“In considering a name change, nonprofits need to weigh the equity (recognition) of their current name against the problems in their name to determine whether it is worth changing,” Mr. Levy, principal of Red Rooster Group, wrote by email. “There is a trend now to emphasize the impact that the organization has, rather than merely describing what it does. Typically those names are more inspiring to donors and constituents and avoid the limitations of descriptive names.”
The active response to the group’s Facebook post prompted Ms. Cohen to respond to concerns by various donors and supporters to the group who were confused by the purpose of the name change as well as the new meaning. “We sincerely appreciate the feedback, even if some of it was a little difficult to read. Constructive criticism is the hallmark of science and we’re all better for it.”
But the name stays.
“Managing this feedback is Point Blue’s next challenge,” Mr. Levy said. “They can use this as an opportunity to educate them about their mission and engage their audience, or be defensive about the name change.”