How to Name Your Nonprofit

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Your nonprofit name is important as it’s your first impression, and it communicates your value to the world. 

You’re starting a nonprofit organization because you want to make an impact, and the best way to honor the people you’ll need to reach with your message is by putting enough thought into your nonprofit name.

If there’s one concept I’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 speaks to the value you’ll offer the world, and it’ll help you attract the resources you’ll need to flourish in your organization.

No matter whether you’re starting a nonprofit or a corporate 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.

The following principles will help you jumpstart the naming process and help pull out the creativity in that brilliant brain of yours to create the nonprofit name that you’ll be proud of….and that people will want to be a part of.

So, grab your journal and let’s get started.

Follow these 4 important steps to naming your nonprofit:

  1. Name Generation (Brain Dump) – This is simple. Don’t think too much about it, just start writing with no limitations. There are no good or bad ideas and there’s no judgment. You’ll be surprised at what comes up when you just keep writing. Try to come up with a minimum of 25 names.
  2. Refine your list – Start to distil your ideas with these 5 principles:
    1. The name should be simple and easy to remember, but avoid cute.
    2. The name should be easy to say and spell.
    3. The name should illustrate the organization’s mission or function. For example, names like Big Brothers and Big Sisters clearly communicate the benefit the nonprofit provides.
    4. Build in a way to evoke positive feelings, hope or other core human motivating values. This allows you to touch on people’s passions and purpose, making them want to be a part of what you do. For example, we dare you to say “Yippiekiyay!” without smiling!
    5. Create a shortlist of the names you’ve produced by using these principles. Avoid potential cultural or other less than obvious negative connotations, including acronyms. For example, how might people shorten your name?
  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, just take notes and listen. 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:
    1. 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”.
    2. Do a name availability search on your secretary of state’s business filings website. Nearly every state now has online filing search capability.
    3. 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’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. 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.

And there you have it. Follow these 4 steps 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.

To your mission.

Jacqui Long | Conjuror of Comms & Culture | Yippiekiyay Nonprofit Solutions

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