How to Name Your Nonprofit Organization

Curious about the best process to select a name for your new entity? Whether you’re starting a nonprofit or a commercial venture, the challenges and principles of naming your organization are fundamental. The idea is to keep this process short and sweet because while naming is important, you can’t let it get in the way of projecting your vision into reality.

You’re starting a nonprofit because you want to give back to the world – and the best way to honor those people that you need to reach with your organization’s message, is by putting enough thought into your group’s name. You can do that by using the following principles to name your organization. There are four separate steps to take in naming your organization.

(NOTE: This is Item #1 of our 13-Point Nonprofit Startup Checklist PDF; If you don’t have a copy yet, get one here.)

Step 1: Generating names – the “brain dump”. This is simple: Don’t think about it, don’t call your Aunt Gertrude for advice – just get a pen and a legal pad and start writing. Don’t limit yourself. There are no good or bad ideas – just write.

Step 2: Refine your list. Next, you’ll refine your list using my five core naming principles:

  • Principle 1: the name should be simple and easy to remember, but avoid cute.
  • Principle 2: the name should be easy to say and spell.
  • Principle 3: The name should illustrate the organization’s mission or function. That’s why I just love names like Big Brothers and Big Sisters or Adopt a Platoon.
  • Principle 4: If possible, consider building in a way to evoke positive feelings, hope or another core human motivating value. This is very important for private sector companies that are for-profits as well, but especially for nonprofits. We dare you to say “Yippiekiyay!” wihtout smiling!
  • Principle 5: review your short list that you’ve produced through these principles and avoid potential cultural or other less than obvious negative connotations, including through potential acronysms. How are people going to shorten your name?

Once you apply those five principles, you should have a nice short list of names to move on to step three.

Step 3: The”Poor man’s” focus group. What you’re going to do in this step is simply write down a brief list of friends, family and other local business people or trusted advisers and ask them to say the first thing that comes to  mind as they hear the list of names you slowly read off of your list.

Don’t defend, just take notes and listen.When they’ve said their piece, ask questions and listen some more.

Then, go sleep on the results and we promise, you’ll gain insights and ideas that will help you – some of which may have nothing to do with naming your nonprofit organization.

Step 4: Conflict Search. While there’s generally no need at this stage to hire a trademark attorney, it’s advised you determine availability of the names that you’ve got that are kind of in your final list list. While we don’t purport to be lawyers (and do not give legal advice) you likely won’t run into an infringement issue if you are not doing the a similar type of of business under a similar name in the same geography. There are three ways you can search for overlapping name issues;

  • #1 – of course – is a Google search. You want to know if there’s anyone out there in the world 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”.
  • Second would be a name availability search on your secretary of state’s business filings website. Nearly every state now has online filing search capability. We also have a link on that page to every single one of all 50 states secretary of state’s websites where you’ll get your business filing documents or your online filing system.
  • Finally, you’ll look for relevant domain names. This serves two purposes; first, “domain squatting” is a common practice where internet domain name speculators buy domain names solely for the purpose of sitting on them, hoping to sell them to people like, er, you – once you’ve decided on a name for your organization. Often the price at which they are 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. The second purpose is to consider whether an undesirable website might be too close to what a reasonable person might search to find your group: for example, when it comes to URL’s, the difference between “ExpertsExchange.com” and “ExpertSexChange.com” is, well, nothing.

So let’s recap what we’ve covered here in the process of naming your nonprofit. We covered name generation, refining your list, focus grouping and name search and name availability checking. Those are the four steps for naming your nonprofit. Now you’re ready to make a solid selection for a name and move on confidently through the process of getting your nonprofit launched and into reality.

 

Here are the next steps if you’re following my format to create your nonprofit in five days. Number 1, just today here we covered naming. The next day, day 2 covers filing your entity at your secretary of state filing service. Day 3 will be your beginning board of directors. On day 4, you’ll get your EIN number and your bank account. Then on day 5 you’ll develop your elevator pitch, which is just the most concise way of describing what it is that your organization does and why it’s important.

 

BONUS: YOUR ONE-SENTENCE NONPROFIT MISSION STATEMENT

Independent of deciding on what to name your new new nonprofit organization,  there’s nothing so powerful as equipping you and your founding fans with this “One-Sentence Mission Statement Formula” – also knows as your “Instant Impact” Statement.

You’re excited about your new venture, so it’s tempting to rattle on and on to anyone who will listen – but this serves neither you nor the listener. Instead, this simple tactic below turns the dynamic around, so that anyone who is remotely interested can’t help but say, “Wow, that’s pretty amazing. How do you do that?” Now you’ve earned interest, trust, and the right to tell them a little more.

When given the opportunity to tell a person or group about your organization for the first time, you say:

“We help ___________________ (the community you serve) by providing __________________(your nonprofit’s general activity or service) so they experience __________________(the result you aim to achieve).”

Want to go big and cast the vision about why this is important? Just add, “…so that __________ (describe how the world will look different)”.

Articulate with clarity, while creating intrigue and attraction to your cause with this PROVEN formula. Try it out now!

These secret weapons help you package your mission in a way that’s irresistible to anyone who might be interested in promoting or supporting your organization (or knows someone who can). It’s like a magnet.

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