The First Steps to Starting a Nonprofit: Naming Your Organization

This article is an excerpt from the Nonprofit Hub University course on How to Start a Nonprofit. To sign up for the full course or to get more lessons, head over to NHU.


Your name was the first gift your parents gave to you. Even though you had no control, your name says a lot about you. It can affect your personality, attitudes and even your career trajectory.

A name is a vital component to your nonprofit. It often is the first impression you get to make on the world. Before you dive into the nitty-gritty word bubbles, thought clouds and other abstract naming practices, you first need to define the mission of your nonprofit. You want a name that matches your organization’s mission, style and culture.

Two Different Routes

When deciding your name, you can go down two paths: the descriptive name or an abstract name.

The descriptive name says exactly who you are and what you do. These are names like the American Cancer Society, the Human Rights Campaign, Habitat for Humanity, the Minnesota Leukemia Foundation, etc. And just because you are going down the descriptive route doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. Take a look at that list of names again and note that there is still a degree of creativity involved in the process. You still have to pick the right combination of words and descriptors.

If you go the abstract route, you’ll have to put in a little more work and time to the creative process. One helpful way is to come up with words that describe your organization. Start with adjectives and nouns that fit with your mission and your brand. Then take those words and see how they fit into a name. Combine them into a single word or title and mix and match. The decision shouldn’t be made on an impulse. Once you’ve settled on it, try using it in conversation or writing it down.

What Else is Out There?

After you think you have a great name, do a quick online search to see if there are any companies (nonprofit AND for-profit) that are out there in order to make sure you won’t be infringing upon any trademarks. Also, if you plan to apply for articles of incorporation, do a search with the secretary of state to make sure there are no other businesses operating under a similar name.

No matter what you choose, before you settle on your name you should also consider important external identifiers. Is your preferred website URL available? Can you get a good Twitter handle available? These factors should not necessarily drive your naming decisions, but they should be a consideration at perhaps a tiebreaker.

What’s Next?

Even after you have the name picked out, there is a lot of  more work to do. And we can help you along the journey.  We’ve put together an all-inclusive guide in the Nonprofit Hub University to help you get off the ground and make sure all of your bases are covered.

In the course, you’ll learn about the forms you’ll have to file, the things you should consider while formulating a marketing plan and how to set up your organizational structure. We aren’t just talking the talk. In the course, I share my experiences incorporating a new nonprofit.

You can get all nine lessons and a handy print-out checklist for $99. In addition, you will also get access to bootcamps in fundraising and social media, plus others courses that are coming down the pipe, including one on video and marketing.

Head over to NHU to start the course and learn everything it will take to set up your nonprofit and start making a difference.

It’s time to leave your mark. Learn more on starting a nonprofit today.


Lincoln Arneal

Lincoln Arneal was a Senior Editor at Nonprofit Hub who brought loads of real-world nonprofit experience to the team. He was the past executive director of a nonprofit that provided leadership development to junior high and high school students. He looked to bring the insights from his time forming, developing, and running a nonprofit to help others in their quest to do good. Lincoln also had a legal background and had written for various newspapers (covering high school sports) for the past 15 years. He could be followed on Twitter at @NPLNK.

January 30, 2015

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