1. The acronym could actually spell a word and confuse people. This slide, on the main page of the Independent Sector’s website, just makes it look like they have serious issues with grammar. And really, is “Independent Sector” too long to spell out? Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to even use an acronym.
2. With acronyms, it’s really easy to be inconsistent with their use. If you use an acronym, you need to have specific rules as to WHEN to use the acronym and when not to. It doesn’t look good to willy-nilly splash it on your website in both formats. Everyone needs to get on the same page! The Wildlife Conservation Society can’t seem to decide how to use their name in this example. Include acronym-use as part of your style guide. If it’s really too long to spell out everywhere on your site, use the acronym in the body text but make sure you have it spelled out under your logo AND on the bottom of every page as part of a contact us area AND in your About Us section.
3. You get so used to the acronym that you forget to ever spell it out. This is what happens when a nonprofit spends so much time in their own world that they can’t see it from an outside perspective. Just because you use your name as an acronym internally doesn’t mean anyone else is going to get it. The organization CFALA spells out only the LA part of their name (Los Angeles). I was guessing Certified Financial Accountant for the rest and kept seeing references to investments – it wasn’t until I clicked on a PARTNER website did I find out exactly what it stands for, because it was not ANYWHERE on their website – not even the About Us page. In case you are curious, it’s the Chartered Financial Analysts Society of Los Angeles. Re-evaluate how your acronym-use is harming or helping your brand and plot out best practices at your next board retreat and staff training – include outside opinions.
4. It makes logo design really challenging. Do you include the full name? it’s doubtful that it will look good. Anything more than 4 short to medium-length words gets a bit tricky. You end up just laying it all out there – all text and no fun – or trying to make just the acronym letters look interesting (like the sad examples below). If you are using an acronym, invest in a really good graphic designer to make your logo interesting; this is not the time for doing it yourself.
5. Not using the tagline to explain yourself. The ASAE (and don’t ask me exactly what it stands for because even after visiting their site I have no idea) COULD have taken advantage of their logo to explain what the letters stand for – but instead we get a vague tagline “The Center for Association Leadership”. I think it’s just the curse of acronyms, that the best practice is to spell out your name as your tagline. You will just have to work harder to get your key messages into your marketing materials and website in other ways and other areas.
6. They make you look old-school rather than modern. I think acronyms used to be more about prestige than anything else; the longer the name, the more important (and more official) your work sounded. You will often see acronymized (yes – I made up a word) nonprofits with old logos as well – which makes for an interesting clash when you combine modern website and fonts with an old logo. It’s hard to let go of those classic seal/emblem logos; create a new modern logo but also create a shrine for your old one both on your website and offline. Make it an important part of your history – because it is!