When Lutheran Social Services of the South, based in Austin, Texas, changed its name to “Upbring” last spring, they joined the ranks of other long-standing Lutheran institutions around the country that have re-branded in recent years.
Why the name change? “We want people to know who we serve in one word,” said Evan Molian, chief mission officer for Upbring.
The new name comes from the word “upbringing” and emphasizes the organization’s commitment to serve children, he said.
Re-branding wasn’t done impulsively. A two-year planning process brought about Upbring’s new strategy and identity.
“Organizations re-brand in order to make sure they are meeting the needs of changing audiences,” said Sian Muir, an expert on marketing and director of management studies at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn. “They seek to serve new people as former audiences age or shift, and they want to be current.
“There is a general trend to be more inclusive, so organizations will move away from a specific identity, such as ‘Lutheran.’ Their mission pretty clearly states who they are supporting or serving.”
Ascentria Care Alliance is the new name for Lutheran Social Services of New England, based in Worcester, Mass. Ascentria means “rising together,” said Jodie Justofin, its vice president of strategic marketing and communications. “Our faith-based legacy is reflected in this blend of ‘ascension’ and ‘trinity,’ ” she added.
SpiriTrust Lutheran is the new identity for a social ministry organization based in York, Pa., that focuses on services for elderly people. Begun in 1950, it was previously known as Lutheran Social Services of South Central Pennsylvania. SpiriTrust Lutheran provides senior living, hospice, home care, memory care and other services.
In these cases, the organizations worked to honor their Lutheran heritage. Although an organization’s culture and goals aren’t necessarily changed in re-branding, the effort reflects serious planning and thought about an institution’s strategy.
For SpiriTrust Lutheran, research during a 16-month process showed that in New England “Lutheran” is relevant, even a strength. It’s associated with compassionate care and not turning people away, said Crystal Hull, corporate director of communications and public relations.
Why they serve
“Faith-based organizations always have to correct misunderstandings about who they are and who they serve. But it’s not about either of those; it’s about why we serve,” said Glenn Miller, an ELCA pastor and vice president for external relations at SpiriTrust Lutheran. “The Lutheran ethos that drives us is the call to serve the neighbor in what we do every day at every level.”
In Texas, Upbring’s leadership saw the need to focus services on breaking the cycle of child abuse so they re-branded. Calling Texas “an epicenter of children’s issues,” Molian said “70 percent of child abuse is actually neglect.” Upbring seeks to reduce recurrence by addressing health, safety, education, vocation and life skills, he said.
For Upbring, re-branding was also part of a strategy to secure developing partnerships in order to deepen services, such as a connection to Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, Austin. This was the case for Ascentria as well. After re-branding the organization entered into a partnership with the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, Worcester, to address the needs of clients in a holistic way, Justofin said.
Lutheran social service organizations, like their religious and secular counterparts, must seek funding from various sources, Justofin said. A narrow religious identity can be a barrier for some corporations and foundations, she added.
Garnering new revenue sources played a role in SpiritTrust Lutheran’s decision to re-brand. Although the government funds its work in part (Medicare and Medicaid), diverse donor support is also necessary to its financial health. “We are still supported by congregations, but the funding stream is not as robust as it once was,” Hull said.
At Augsburg Fortress, the publishing ministry of the ELCA, discussion about “rethinking the organization’s brand” and a series of listening meetings have been underway for about a year, said President and CEO Beth Lewis.
Lewis brought a progress report to the ELCA Church Council in November 2015. In the proposal being considered, the name “Augsburg Fortress” would be kept under a new umbrella parent brand if approved by the Augsburg Fortress Board of Trustees, Lewis said.
The shift mirrors a similar change made by the ELCA Board of Pensions. In 2011 the organization re-branded itself as Portico Benefit Services. Today Portico provides health, retirement, disability and survivor benefits and related services for 50,000 active and retired ELCA pastors and employees. Jeffrey Thiemann, president and CEO, said, “Though our name [has changed], our connection to this church remains strong.”
As for Upbring, it might take a while. “[The name] is not being used by most congregations yet,” said Hattie Hammer, an ELCA member in Duncanville, Texas.
“Why use terms that don’t convey anything?”
Others are welcoming the change. Hammer’s husband, Mel, an ELCA pastor, said “Upbring — it’s about kids. I get it.”