YMCA Rebrands: Say Hello To The Y

The YMCA of the USA’s announcement that it will now be known as “the Y” has received widespread coverage, including the requisite quote from the Village People. (Let’s get this out of the way: The Village People said they will continue to perform their hit song with the full four letters.) The launch of the new brand, the organization’s first in more than 40 years, was developed to better reflect the work it does and more clearly organize its programming, according to a June 12 YMCA of the USA press release.

The Y’s refreshed brand represents a new day for the organization. The new name aligns with how most people refer to it, and this alignment will help the Y become “warmer, more genuine” and “more welcoming,” according to Kate Coleman, the organization’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer quoted in a New York Times article.

But does “the Y” really do a better job of representing an organization that has traditionally been known as the neighborhood “swim and gym”? Other nonprofits have changed their names (Christian Children’s Fund became Child Fund in 2008) and refreshed their brands (Girl Scouts of the USA launched its new brand strategy July 7). These updates have been, at least in part, an effort to broaden donor appeal, boost membership and compete for corporate dollars in the increasingly marketing-savvy nonprofit industry.

For other organizations, updating the external brand – perhaps adding a new visual cue or making a change to the name – is only part of the story. In the Y’s case, the new brand also includes a reorganization of programs and services, so that everything they offer rolls up to one of three focus areas: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. This realignment will help the Y concisely define what it stands for, a critical piece of organizational DNA and yet also a daunting challenge to identify for nonprofits, like the Y, who seem to do everything.


 - Kate Dyer, Account Executive


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