Checklist: naming your aid initiative for a visibility advantage

Months, if not years, of meticulous research and planning can go into designing a development or humanitarian aid initiative.

Yet a common mistake is choosing a title at the last minute.

There are thousands of active aid sector initiatives around the globe. If you want your action to stand out and be known and supported, select a title that will give your work a visibility advantage. Here is a checklist with practical tips.

1.Think it through

Taking the time to consider what title to give a potentially life-changing aid initiative may seem glib. Yet it is fundamental.

According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID): “The name of a USAID project helps everyone, including the people we assist, understand the purpose of our work. Project names should be clear, concise and represent the work of USAID”. (See USAID manual, Naming section).

Titles are used in different contexts: oral, written and visual. Depending on the nature of your aid initiative, you might expect its title to be used in grant applications, evaluations and other formal documentation, as well as in daily conversation, public meetings, speeches, videos, website content, media coverage, signage, social media posts and so on.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because your work involves critically important issues or world-class technical excellence, it is irrelevant what you call it.

A dull, generic or complicated title can work against you, even with skilled marketing to make it more appealing. Conversely, an inspiring, memorable title can help create an advantageous environment in which to conduct your action.

TIP: Think through title options during your early concept design and consultations, rather than at the last minute. If your action involves different phases over several years, consider the overall naming approach at the outset.

2. Put your audiences first

Never choose a project title on the basis you like it. This is a recipe for alienating your partners. It also risks creating a barrier to engaging other stakeholders, not least the intended beneficiaries of your action.

The main audiences for your initiative – the key organisations, institutions, populations and individuals you want to attract, involve, influence, empower – should relate to its title. It is a basic consideration that they should be able to easily pronounce and understand the title.

The Civil Society Democratic Governance Facility in Kenya was renamed Amkeni Wakenya, a Swahili phrase taken from the national anthem which means ‘Kenyans let us arise’.

Too many titles signal that an initiative was named for the purposes of the people managing or funding the work. Typical examples are those that feature the names of the lead organisation or partners. You might think this is good practice when it comes to visibility, but often such titles send the wrong message about priorities.

A common challenge is naming actions that involve populations who speak different languages. In such instances, it is important to research how your proposed title translates into different languages.

TIP: Where feasible, ask members of your audience for their input and opinion of title options. Involving them in the naming process can also encourage greater ownership.

3. Keep it simple

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency advises grant applicants that a title “should be formulated in such a way that it gives a clear indication about the focus and content of the project”.

The focus of the ‘Iraq Humanitarian Fund’ is obvious. ‘Power Africa’ is a clear and simple title for an electricity access initiative. ‘Inform’ is a new environmental reporting project in the Republic of Marshall Islands.

In contrast, many titles contain long, detailed descriptions. For example, the ‘Catalysing Implementation of the Strategic Action Programme for the Sustainable Management of Shared Living Marine Resources in the Caribbean and North Brazil Shelf Large Marine Ecosystems’ leaves little doubt about this initiative’s focus, but imagine trying to use it every day.

Long titles are a liability when it comes to visibility. They are cumbersome, hard to recall and impractical for media coverage. There are plenty of other opportunities to explain your work without trying to cram a full description into its title.

Abbreviations are often used to make a title shorter. However, the best solution is to start with a simple, concise title. These also easily convert into a social media hashtag, such as #CrushMalaria.

TIP: A maximum of three words in an aid initiative title is ideal.

Today, there is widespread use of abbreviations and acronyms (including apronyms). There are clever examples, such as the programme ‘Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED)’, the ‘Livelihoods and Food Security Fund (LIFT)’ and ‘Visibility for Vaccines (ViVa)’.

However, exercise caution before coming up with a special way that an abbreviation or acronym must be spoken or written. This approach can result in a distinctive name or backfire by complicating your communications.

The key is to keep it simple. It means your new initiative is more likely to capture the type of attention you want, such as this USA Today coverage of the Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics (EYE) in Africa strategy.

TIP: If your initiative is bound by naming protocols that are non-negotiable, consider using its formal title for administrative purposes only and devising a concise version for general use.

4. Be original

The prevalence of similar sounding titles in the aid sector is a problem. Ever listened to a presentation or read a news item and questioned whether the development or humanitarian project being discussed was something you had heard of before?

Having an original title is one way to clearly distinguish your action. If you want to convey how innovative your new development action is, don’t give it a bland, generic title.

TIP: Get creative. Involve communication experts.

Part of an employment project for the LGBTI community in Brazil, ‘Kitchen & Voice’ is an unusual title and therefore likely to pique interest. At first, the ‘Ministry of Data’ appears to refer to a government department, but it’s in fact a regional open data challenge.

Try something different. Why not call your action a ‘charter’, ‘framework’, ‘movement’,’ challenge’ or ‘dialogue’, instead of a ‘programme’ or ‘project’?

Once you have a title in mind, verify whether the exact form of words or something similar has already been used, including your desired hashtag. Apart from research via a search engine (i.e. Google, Yahoo!), there are numerous project databases to explore, such as:

5. Consider the naming spectrum

Imagine a spectrum with overly long, bland and technical titles at one end, and short, simple and inspiring examples at the other. Where your initiative’s title sits on this spectrum can mean the difference between a visibility advantage or disadvantage, from the moment your grant application is received.

Yes, it is the impact of vital development cooperation and humanitarian aid initiatives that really counts. When it comes to success there are many factors. We need to go beyond words.

Yet, it is worth recognising that something as seemingly innocuous as an aid project title can help or hinder your work depending where it is on the spectrum.


Photo credits: Crush Malaria logo graphic courtesy Catholic Relief Services. EYE


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