Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you’ve already got a great mission and purpose in mind.
But right now, you know that choosing a great name for your for your nonprofit is crucial.
You're learning how to launch a tax-exempt nonprofit organization because you want to make an impact in the world, and the best way to honor the people you’ll need to reach with your message is by putting enough thought into your organization’s name.
If there’s one concept we’d like to instill about naming, it’s this: A well-named concept or product is a valuable concept or product.
In other words, your nonprofit name conveys your mission, and its importance in the world, and it will be the front-line asset in attracting the resources you’ll need to flourish.
No matter whether you're starting a nonprofit or a corporate venture, the challenges and principles of naming your organization are fundamentally the same.
It’s also crucial to keep this process short and sweet because while naming is important, you can’t let it get in the way of moving your vision into reality.
The following principles will help you jump-start the naming process and help maximize your brilliance and creativity to create the nonprofit name that you’ll be proud of...and everyone will be talking about!
So, grab your Naming Your Nonprofit Worksheet and let’s get started.
Here are the five actionable steps to generating a great name for your nonprofit
1. Name Generation (Brain Dump) - This is simple. Don’t think too much about it, just grab a blank document or sheet of paper and start writing, with no limitations and no judgement - let it flow!
There are no good or bad ideas at this stage; it’s about quantity - not quality. You’ll be surprised at what comes up when you just keep writing.Use a thesaurus, and look up any key words or concepts - you can “zoom out” and “zoom in” and play with different versions of words - for example you can “zoom out” so that “animals” or “creatures” (both general) can “zoom in” for specificity.
“Cats” can become “felines”, and you can even become breed-specific.The less pressure you apply to yourself, the more fun you can have!For example, “Woodland Park Animal Rescue” can become “The Underground Railroad for Greyhounds” - and your logo could be a handful of Greyhounds sticking their heads out of the windows of a passenger train!
Try to come up with a minimum of 25 names and have fun with it. People will appreciate and be attracted to your authenticity and sense of humor.
2. Refine your list - Score your list from 1-5 using these 5 Principles:Is the name simple and easy to remember?
Simple is better - but avoid names and terms that are too “cute”.Is the name easy to say and spell?
Anything that causes “brain strain” on the part of someone who may want to get involved - such as having a hard time pronouncing or spelling your organization as they search for that event invitation - could factor into your ability to attract people and their “time, talents, and treasure” that you need to grow your organization.
- Does the name describe the organization's mission or function? For example, names like “Big Brothers and Big Sisters” and “Wounded Warrior Project” clearly communicate the benefit the nonprofit provides.
- Does the name evoke positive feelings? If your name brings an immediate association of hope, action, or any other core motivating values, you are more likely to spark the enthusiasm needed to establish a relationship.
- Touching on people’s passions and purpose makes them want to be a part of what you do. Think of enduring, positive, catchy names such as “Special Olympics”, versus a stale alternative such as “The Association for Developmentally Challenged Athletes” - even though “Special” has been replaced by “Developmentally Disabled” as the politically correct term.
- Create a short-list of the names you’ve produced by using these principles. Then go through the list and consider the following:
- Potential cultural connotations or other less-obvious negative associations. There’s the old story about General Motors trying to sell the popular model Chevy Nova in South America under the same name - but in Spanish, “No Va” means “No Go”.
- Acronyms Examples: K.I.D.S., short for Kids In Distressed Situations is a great one; the YMCA - Formerly known as the Young Men’s Christian Association. Negative Examples: Mississippians Improving Access wanted to be seen as action-oriented, but the acronym of “MIA” undermines that idea. Closer to home, my teen son wanted to name his school group the “Kewl Kids Klub”, but then I pointed out the obvious…
- How might people shorten your name? No one calls the ComicCon the “Golden State Comic Book Convention” anymore.
You've got the idea 🙂
3. The “Poor man’s” focus group - Write down a brief list of friends, family, local business people, trusted advisers, and mentors and ask them to say the first thing that comes to mind as they hear the list of names you slowly read off to them.
Don't defend or discuss - it’s best to just take notes and listen. Also, a cross-cultural focus group can really help expand the perspectives!When they've said their piece, ask questions and listen more.
Then, sleep on the results and we promise, you'll gain insights and ideas that will help you - some of which may go beyond naming your nonprofit organization.
4. Conflict Search - While there's generally no need at this stage to hire a trademark attorney, it’s advised that you determine the availability of your final names.
While we don't purport to be lawyers (and do not give legal advice) you likely won't run into any infringement issues if you’re not doing a similar type of business under a similar name in the same geography.
Here are 3 ways you can search for overlapping name issues:
- Google search - You want to know if there's anyone that's been using your exact or similar name, so do a search with quotes and without quotes - so you can search "like terms" and also "exact match".
- Do a Corporate name availability search on your secretary of state's business filings website - Today, nearly every state has online search capability.
- Look for relevant website URLs (a.k.a “domain names”) - because today, the Internet is the first place people go to look up your organization, and if they can’t find you, they can’t join you.
Thankfully, with most desirable “dot com” and “dot org” domains - both commonly called “top level domains” or “TLDs” for short - already taken, it has become more acceptable to use an alternate “domain extension” ending such as “.co”, and If ICANN sticks to its current plan to expand the internet address space with new addresses such as .BERLIN, .NYC or .RADIO, you’ll see a nearly infinite expansion of website address opportunities for every niche under the sun.
5. Name Reservation/Incorporation - If you plan to use our end-to- end nonprofit formation services there’s no need to reserve your name - this is included in our Instant Nonprofit 501(c)3 Formation Package.
If you haven’t made that decision and are still in the preliminary stages of creating your nonprofit identity, most states allow you to reserve the name for a period of time for a small fee.
Considering the time and effort you’ve invested above, you don’t want to lose the name you’ve come up with!
Editor’s Note: Two more important notes on Website Domains...
- What is Domain Squatting? The unsavory practice known as "domain squatting" is an all-too-common practice where internet domain name profiteers buy domain names solely for the purpose of sitting on them, hoping to sell them to people like you - once you've decided on a name for your organization.Often the price at which they’re willing to sell is too high for the budget of anyone starting a nonprofit organization, so you'll need to consider if your desired name has a "must have" domain name to go along with it.
- Consider what a reasonable person might interpret when they type in your web address.For example, if the organization “Experts Exchange” uses the URL www.expertsexchange.comone person will see "ExpertsExchange.com" - while another reads "ExpertSexChange.com" - it is only a matter of perception! (NOTE, this is not a real site - for example only!)
And there you have it!
Make sure to download your How to Name Your Nonprofit Worksheet here and you’ll be well on your way to making a solid selection for your nonprofit name while confidently moving through the process of getting launched and making your vision a reality.
Also, if you're ready to start your nonprofit and you'd like everything done for you so you don't have to worry about any paperwork and details, then check out our done-for-you 501(c)3 nonprofit service.
Or, if you you're ready to get started, but you have a few questions, the please book a free strategy session here.
-Jacquelyn Long, How to Create an Unforgettable Name for Your Nonprofit, InstantNonprofit