How to choose the best name for your nonprofit organization.
There’s a lot that goes into naming a nonprofit. Nonprofit organizations need a clear name that speaks to donors, the public, and those who receive services. Specifically, the organization needs a unique, vibrant name that conveys the nonprofit’s mission. If you have to regularly correct or explain the name or pronunciation, it might not be maximizing your band’s potential. Choosing the best name for your nonprofit organization is one of the most critical decisions a founder makes.
Stay away from boring, corporate-sounding names and ones that may be taboo or considered “out there.” You want your board, employees, and volunteers to say the name with pride and without hesitation. Your name should convey the unique perspective your nonprofit brings to the industry.
The best time to determine a name is before incorporating your nonprofit. While names can always be amended after the fact, you can save a lot of paperwork and hassle by choosing your nonprofit’s long-term name from the start. Here are a few key things to consider when naming a nonprofit.
5 Steps To Naming a Nonprofit Organization
Make sure the name is legally available.
Finding the perfect name is not without challenges. First of all, the name must be legally permissible in your state. Naming rules vary by state but generally require including “Inc.” at the end. “Inc.” is short for “Incorporated” and defines the organization as a corporation.
Your organization’s name must also be unique in your state. While Help, Inc. might be the perfect name for your nonprofit organization, there is most likely already a Help, Inc. registered in your state. It’s crucial to research name availability before incorporating. A note of caution: some states will consider anything that sounds like a registered name off-limits. So even if a search nets no results, it does not guarantee the name is available. Name availability rules vary by state.
Additionally, many states and the IRS do not allow any form of punctuation in the name. Consider these rules when naming your nonprofit. For example, an organization might be called “Joe’s House, Inc.” but the IRS would require it to be documented as “Joes House Inc” instead. The lack of punctuation is not a big deal and does not affect the organization’s activities, but it is worth considering.
Tip: Search your state’s Secretary of State website to see if your preferred name is already registered.
Tip 2: If you plan on operating in multiple states or anticipate your organization growing significantly in size, make sure your name is available with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Learn more about what it takes to trademark your nonprofit’s name.
Avoid hard-to-spell names.
Organization names should be clear and easily repeatable — this includes the spelling. You want to ensure donors can find your nonprofit website and write checks without misspelling the name. Ideally, the board, employees, and volunteers should not have to correct misspelled versions of the organization’s name continually.
One great way to ensure your organization’s name is clear and easy to spell is to practice sharing the name in a room of people (potential donors) or over the phone (potential clients). As you practice these situations, do you foresee people asking follow-up questions, or do they immediately understand and write down the organization’s name? Consider classic and long-lasting nonprofits like Goodwill and Rock the Vote. These organizations have clear names that don’t leave room for misspellings.
Another way to avoid spelling mistakes is to limit replacing words with numbers. While replacing “for” with “4” might help the name availability, it creates confusion when speaking the name aloud. Numbers are another way names quickly become unclear.
Tip: When naming a nonprofit, ask a group of friends or family members for their feedback on the clarity of potential names.
Aim for simple and short names where possible.
A great nonprofit name is concise and clear. Finding an available name that is easy to spell and short may be difficult, but finding the perfect name is worth the time and effort.
Remember, you want your board members, donors, and volunteers to be excited about your organization. If they have to recite an entire sentence each time they share the name, they and anyone listening will likely lose interest. Names that run on forever are generally ill-advised.
When naming a nonprofit startup, some organizations look for acronyms. This isn’t a bad strategy, but make sure the acronym makes sense on its own in addition to when expanded. For example, United Against Poverty is a clear and short name. However, they have multiple campuses throughout the state of Florida. To keep the name clear, they abbreviated the Orlando campus name to UP Orlando. UP maintains the acronym while also focusing on the organization’s mission: helping people up and out of their situations.
Tip: Avoid overly long names and be as clear as possible when naming a nonprofit.
Desired Name: Hayden’s Dog and Cat Rescue of Central Florida
This is a solid name, however, it contains 22 characters.
Alternative Name: Pet Rescue by Hayden
This is a shorter, more concise name and leads with the mission of Pet Rescue, so everyone knows what they do. Additionally, not including location allows the brand to expand easily.
Think about the future of your organization.
A great nonprofit name is linked to the organization’s mission, not what services the nonprofit provides. Consider the nonprofit Feeding America. Even if you don’t know anything about the organization, it’s clear from the name what it does.
Granted, Feeding America wasn’t always the organization’s name. It began as St. Mary’s Food Bank before growing to multiple locations. The organization rebranded a few times in the last 40 years, choosing “Feed-ing America” in 2008.
Feeding America provides a great lesson about focusing the organization’s name on the mission (feeding) and not what the organization does (food bank). This way, the name provides room to grow.
Say your organization is named “St. Mary’s Food Bank” and decides to open a homeless shelter. That doesn’t make much sense from a naming perspective. Instead, consider a name about serving the homeless rather than focusing on the service offered.
Tip: Define a clear mission, vision, and values statement for your nonprofit organization.
Think through branding and digital availability when naming a nonprofit.
All companies should have a comprehensive brand. Nonprofit organizations are no exception. The brand is the nonprofit’s core identity and what helps donors, volunteers, and clients recognize and remember the organization.
A great name for a nonprofit organization also has a complete brand identity, including web domains, email addresses, and social media accounts. All of these addresses should be uniform and recognizable with the same name. For example, consider the Boys and Girls Club. Again, the name conveys exactly what the organization is about. However, it’s a bit long for a website address, so the national nonprofit uses the acronym https://bgca.org. That same acronym is used across the organization’s social media accounts to provide uniformity and brand recognition.
Tip 1: Use a domain search engine like Hover to find available web domains and see alternative options.
Tip 2: If you are set on or need to have a longer name, consider finding a short name or abbreviation that can be used for securing your website and email address.
- For example, if your name is Victory Outreach Church of Johnsonville, that would be a long web address of “www.Victoryoureachchurchofjohnsville.org”.
- Alternatively, you may consider www.vocoj.org.
In this example, we keep the name, but only because the website domain for the initials is available. Otherwise, we would not recommend using the name as the URL due to the web address, email address, and name recall challenges from donors and the community. Do not make them think too hard by typing the web address or email! Imagine your donors sending an email to JamesJones@Victoryoureachchurchofjohnsville.org vs. JamesJones@vocoj.org.
Need help registering your nonprofit’s name, creating a brand identity, or filing for tax exemption? Contact the nonprofit specialists at BryteBridge today.