Acronyms for Non-profits? YMMV.

2017-12-20 acronyms

By Rachel Owen, communications manager

Our world is increasingly full of shortcuts to get where we’re going faster and how we communicate is no exception to that trend. Slang, abbreviations and memes are very much a part of modern communication. Your organization’s culture will often determine if slang and memes are appropriate to use in communication with your members, but what about acronyms and other abbreviations?

Note: For the sake of brevity (see what I did there?), in this post “acronym” can refer to any type of abbreviation your organization might be considering. You can learn about abbreviations, acronyms and initialism here.

One trend I see with non-profits is a steady use of abbreviations. When naming a new product, service or feature, the tendency is to reach for an abbreviation first. Perhaps you even started with the acronym first and worked backwards to create the full name (a backronym).

While acronyms are handy for typing, our challenge in non-profits becomes knowing when they will be useful and valuable to our members.

Here are some things to consider before naming your next program.

Know your audience. Consider where you want to use the acronym. We all have shorthand that we may use with fellow staff and volunteers who are deep in the trenches, but for more general member-facing communications such as emails, newsletters or social media it’s best to use full titles. No one likes needing to ask, “What does XYZ mean?”

Consider “why” the term needs an abbreviation. Is the name of your program simply too long? You may be trying to do too much with the name. Are you working with a “legacy” title? It might be time to consider rebranding if it no longer fits with the current nature of the program or the culture of the organization.

Keep focus on the important things. We can acronym away things that matter. An organization that wants to increase awareness about a specific aspect of their efforts (international, multilingual, legislative, advocacy, integrity, technology, etc.) would benefit from letting those words stand out when naming their initiatives. For example, an organization that wants to increase awareness about its global efforts should promote their International Work Groups rather than “IWG.”

Beware “alphabet soup.” We’ve all experienced the confusion when multiple abbreviations in a document start to jumble together into “alphabet soup.” Acronyms can exclude some readers from your community, making it hard for them to feel a part of the organization. Practically, this means that the Super Cool Organization’s (SCO) Young Professionals Networking League (YPNL) may have difficulty drawing newcomers to their event (“Join us for SCO’s 2018 YPNL!”). Not only is alphabet soup hard on the eyes, but the purpose of the event is lost to anyone who isn’t familiar with the lingo or the context.

Watch out for a loss of clarity. If a photography non-profit organizes grant writing classes called Snapshot Funding (SNAFU) Workshops, they might find that attendees expect the class is about common photography mistakes.

Make your terms searchable. If you reference SNAFU in your promotions, be sure that a search of your website for “SNAFU” will bring up the Snapshot Funding Workshops. There’s nothing worse than wondering what an organization’s abbreviation means and getting zero results on their website.

Check your name with multiple sources. Always check that your desired name does not conflict with another company’s intellectual property. Also, make sure any abbreviations do not spell something inappropriate or ill-fitting for your organization.

Spell it out. If you decide an acronym is the right fit for your initiative, the first time the abbreviation is used in each document, article, or post always list the full name for clarity.

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