Starting a Nonprofit? 3 Tips on How to Choose Your Name

If clothes make the man and shoes the outfit, the right name makes your nonprofit. Defining your cause likely took care of itself in the very first stage of starting your nonprofit. It was the cause, after all, that inspired you in the first place. And coming up with a mission statement was hard enough, but audiences will judge your organization by its name before its mission anyway. Thus few creative decisions will have a broader-reaching effect on your organization than selecting its name.

But don’t let the significance of the task scare you off. We’ll walk you through choosing a name for your budding nonprofit organization.

Nonprofits are Just Like Babies

Baby name books make it abundantly clear: expectant parents are inexhaustibly painstaking when selecting a moniker for their kid. They insist that the meaning be appealing and that the children of friends and family don’t sport the same one. Plus their choice has to sound familiar enough to avoid misspellings, yet be distinct.

The name you select for your nonprofit must meet the same exacting specifications. It should communicate your organization’s mission and be catchy so that your audience remembers it. Also, be wary of selecting a name with unwanted associations. Research prospective nonprofit names, who already uses them and in what context.

Selecting a meaningful and memorable name for your nonprofit may be your first nonprofit branding task—and a very important one at that.

New Nonprofit on the Block

After narrowing your nonprofit name options down to one or two, creative work gives way to legalities. An enforceable trademark—which distinguishes businesses and corporations from one another—will protect your nonprofit brand from unwanted associations. Using your name first (rather than legally registering it) grants you an enforceable trademark on your nonprofit’s name.

Contact the Secretary of State’s office in your state to verify the availability of your hopeful name choice.

Stake Your Claim

Nowadays your nonprofit must have a website to connect with supporters, so don’t finalize your organization’s name without at least reserving a domain name. An added bonus: your nonprofit website will create trademark ownership of your organization’s name even if you don’t register it.

Altogether: the importance of finding the right domain name (and a powerful nonprofit web design) cannot be overstated.

Are you in the process of starting a nonprofit and naming your organization? Tell us about your experience so far in the comments section below.


Jill Havlat

June 6, 2012

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