How wonderful would it be if your nonprofit became a household name? Known by so many, easily recognizable, memorable, and garnering so much ongoing support. Naming a nonprofit can make it possible, but only if done in the right way.
Your name is the first thing prospective donors, volunteers, and beneficiaries will read when determining whether or not to move forward with supporting your organization. Researched, well-brainstormed, and written succinctly, meaningfully, and creatively, your nonprofit’s name becomes a door of immense possibility for your nonprofit organization.
A great nonprofit name will be dynamic, memorable, and will give the world a sense of your mission. Your nonprofit’s name is critical because it is what will distinguish your nonprofit from others. It’s the first thing a prospective donor will read when deciding whether or not to learn more about your nonprofit, and ultimately, whether or not to support it. The right name also builds immediate trust and credibility with a prospective new supporter and makes a warm first impression.
The sad truth is that many nonprofits overlook the importance of choosing the right name the first time around. If you and your board can get it right immediately, it’ll save you the hassle of trying to change it later on. Changing your name, later on, can involve legal headaches, but it can also be difficult because it requires your constituents (donors, volunteers, and beneficiaries) to get “used to” a name change. Make it easy on yourself, and follow these guidelines to pick the best nonprofit name, right away.
There’s no “perfect” nonprofit name – but there are many ways to approach devising a great name, one that will attract new and retain existing supporters.
Here are some types to consider when beginning to brainstorm your nonprofit’s name:
A meaningful or descriptive name will represent the meaning of your organization’s mission and will tell donors almost exactly what you do. For example, “Stand up to Cancer” implies that this organization is doing what it can to fight back the graveness of cancer. Their mission is to raise funds to get new therapies to patients as quickly as possible and to save lives now. A meaningful name may be emotionally jogging, at the same time, it may imply what your organization is doing to achieve your mission. Other examples can be the following: Teach for America or the American Cancer Society.
A nonprofit with a celebrity or co-founder’s name draws immediate attention to the dynamic person behind the name. This can be good but also risky. In some cases, naming an organization after a celebrity will increase an organization’s credibility – for example, The Elton John AIDS Foundation – since Elton John is a generally loved and well-respected celebrity. The Lance Armstrong Foundation, on the other hand, was renamed the Livestrong Foundation, since controversy emerged surrounding Lance’s career.
Using generic words for names can also be great, or tricky. In some cases, a generic name will imply to the world what your nonprofit does just enough to make them look into your nonprofit more. Some generic names, however, will just leave a donor confused, irritated, and uninterested in learning more. For example, “Active Love” and “Fun Funds”; they’re pretty generic nonprofit organization names.
Have you heard of this American nonprofit – KABOOM? They work toward ending playspace inequity for kids. Now that’s quite a name! Because they’ve used the sound of happy discovery for naming their nonprofit. It instantly catches one’s attention. What follows is an urge to know more.
That’s exactly what we mean by a unique name. It can be a funny sound or a concoction of two distinct words such as Mercy Corps. This too makes people wonder what the organization is doing. If your name can raise curiosity in someone’s mind, that’s enough work, to begin with!
Pro tip: It’s good to have a unique name that’s intriguing but you should refrain from choosing heavy jargon, not understandable for many. Do not pick technical words even if they describe your mission. Rather, focus on making it fun or emotional, relatable, and interesting.
Brainstorming a new nonprofit name is a tricky business! As mentioned above, your name represents your brand, should be memorable, and has the opportunity to leave a strong, great first impression on prospective supporters. Where does one even begin to brainstorm?
Once you’re ready to dive in, start by answering some of the following questions:
Once you’ve answered some of these initial questions, write down a few name options. Don’t worry – these first names don’t have to be “the ones”. Just jot down some ideas, referring to the ‘types of names’ you can choose from (see above!). Then, ask yourself and your team the following:
Once you’ve come up with a few names you feel confident about, it’s time to narrow those names down, consider putting together a small focus group or sending a survey out to those you trust most. The more feedback you get from the right people, the more confident you’ll feel about the name you finally choose.
Brainstorming your name and thinking about what type of name to choose for your nonprofit are all important steps. Other logistical pieces are just as critical. Here are some factors to consider and steps to take when securing your nonprofit’s name.
First and foremost, you’ll want to make sure to not use words like “federal” or “national” in your name, as these are only permitted to be used for state and/or government purposes. Likewise, you cannot imply that your nonprofit is tied to any state or government programs, or imply a misleading purpose. There are actually rules that are prohibited for business names in each state, and these vary by state. Check here to find out more before taking time to brainstorm your nonprofit’s name.
You cannot simply put “Inc.”, “LLC”, or “LLP”, at the end of your business’s name. To use those marks properly, you must refer to your state’s rules of incorporation and file the necessary articles to do so (if you decide that using a designator is the best route for your nonprofit).
You cannot use a name that’s been trademarked. It’s also illegal to use another nonprofit’s name in the same state. You will have to do thorough research on the possible names you’ve thought of.
Some state government sites have their database of nonprofit/business names made public for reference. You may also find websites that provide such information. Check it yourself or consider reaching out to a legal advisor for help.
If your name is too similar to that of another organization, you could make yourself vulnerable to copyright lawsuits or trademark infringement. The other organization could accuse you of improperly using their name or infringing upon their intellectual property.
Even if they don’t take any action, there is a high chance that people would mix up your names. That’s not good for either of the nonprofits. Especially yours because you’re just starting out. People may ignore your solicitation emails or social media posts thinking they’ve already given to the other organization.
Your website decides a lot of essential things for your nonprofit’s future. So do your social media profiles. Starting from marketing to online donations, everything happens on them. Hence, having the names and URL close to your name is very important, so people can identify. Before you’ve registered your name, research and see if your desirable URL and names are available for use.
Grab them right away if they are available. If not, rethink your selected name. Try to find a URL and social media handles that will remain aligned on every platform.
It’s possible that you’re totally confused about how to name your nonprofit. After having asked yourself the questions and considered the types, you’re still clueless as to which one you should go for. It’s normal. You’d not want to take a chance for something as important as your cause. Getting professional help can save you in this situation, also in the long run.
To make sure you do everything correctly, consider hiring a professional to help! It’ll be worth the investment. You can present them with the names you’ve already brainstormed. And they’ll take care of any legal obligations and help you zero in on one.
Feed the Frontlines provides meals to doctors, nurses, and medical staff who are working at the front end during the pandemic in Boston. It’s a simple name with a direct and impactful approach. Here’s what we liked –
Project Charley was founded with the sole intention of providing neurological rehabilitation resources to Austin, Texas. This nonprofit’s mission is inspired by a little girl named ‘Charley’ who met with an accident that left her unable to walk. Through rehabilitation therapy, now, she’s beginning to walk again. We love this name for the following reasons –
Habitat for Humanity strives for a world where every person has a decent place to live. It may not be very straightforward but it has a deep and beautiful meaning to it. From the first word itself, people would guess what the nonprofit is about. Here are things we liked –
Charity: Water’s mission is to help bring clean and safe water to every person on the planet. It’s easy to get that from the name itself. Here’s why we love it –
Doctors Without Borders is an independent, global movement providing medical aid where it’s needed the most. The mention of ‘doctors’ makes it clear to people that the nonprofit must be into medical aid or health services. What we particularly liked about the name are –
The Trevor Project is named after the award-winning short film ‘Trevor’. This organization was founded by the creators of the film. It’s very close to the type – celebrity or founder name. The nonprofit provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to the LGBTQ community and its people who are under 25 years old.
If you’re looking to name your nonprofit after a famous project, a movie, or a popular personality, this can be a good example. Here’s why –
The sections above must have inspired and taught you to think of a name that matters. But this downloadable PDF worksheet below will help you get in on it right away – with questions for the naming exercise, brainstorming, and evaluating your thoughts.
Download the naming worksheet for your nonprofit here.
Imagine you and your nonprofit, 5 years down the line, with a multitude of supporters and your mission being met beyond what you could’ve imagined. This is all so possible, but the first step is to get your nonprofit name ‘right’ – that is, to get it memorable, legal, and illustrative of your nonprofit’s mission.
Follow the example of the already numerous, fantastic nonprofit organizations that exist. What’s in a name, you might ask? Innumerable possibilities for your deserving, incredible nonprofit organization.
Here we’ll answer some of the most common questions on naming a nonprofit.
Do your research! Many companies exist that will help you check for business entity names that are already taken in your state, such as LegalZoom. You’ll also want to make sure your name isn’t taken by another URL or website domain. Check websites like Network Solutions to see more.
Before choosing a trademark, you’ll need to run a thorough trademark search. This should be done by a professional who knows what they’re doing. Filing your application is the next step. Once you’ve filed your trademark application and been approved, there’s maintenance paperwork that must be completed every year.
Trademarking your nonprofit’s name may come with a high cost, but is often worth it. Registering a nonprofit trademark provides extra protection, added benefits and enforceable rights for your nonprofit.
Application filing fees range from $225-$400 and can add up quickly. Additionally, if you hire an attorney to file your application for you, you’ll have to pay additional hiring fees. Once you obtain your trademark registration, there’s paperwork that must be filed every year in order to keep your trademark active.
This paperwork can cost anywhere between $150-$500 to file, depending on whether or not you hire an attorney to help you. Finally, there are miscellaneous fees to be aware of. One example of a miscellaneous cost that may come up is needing to have an attorney draft a cease and desist letter for you so you can send it out on your own (if you discover that someone is using your trademark).
The process to change a nonprofit name with the IRS differs by state. Organizations structured as nonprofit corporations may change their name by amending their Articles of Incorporation to reflect this new name. In most states, this means having to adopt the amendment and filing it with the state agency that handles incorporation. Some states also require that the amendment be published in a newspaper of general circulation.