How to Name a Nonprofit Corporation: A Quick Guide
Would you write a check for $100 to an organization called “Driven?” Maybe? You’d probably want to know more about what exactly they do before committing, right? Unfortunately, there are tons of nonprofit names out there that are vague or even unprofessional.
Think of how many nonprofits you’ve seen with names so non-specific that you don’t have any idea what the organization does, such as “Thrive,” “Future,” “Elevation” or “Happify.” There are even nonprofits using unusual spellings and phrases, like “Kwality Kids Edukation” or “Crazy Larry’s Wacky Wildlife Refuge.” (OK, that last one might be a bit outlandish!).
How to name a nonprofit shouldn’t be difficult or incredibly time-consuming. When you have the right framework in place and know the direction you want to go with your nonprofit, a name should naturally flow right off of the tip of your tongue.
Regardless of what you do (even saving wacky wildlife), nonprofit names and how to name a nonprofit is an essential step in starting a nonprofit organization. The name of your nonprofit is critical to your identity and needs to help make a strong first impression with donors, stakeholders, and partners. Choosing the right name can help your nonprofit stand out from the crowd and build credibility.
The point is, effectively naming your nonprofit can be the difference between getting attention from donors and being ignored by the world. Don’t miss this chance to make a positive first impression! Here are a few key tips on how to name a nonprofit.
Advice for Choosing a Nonprofit Name
Focus on the Nonprofit’s Purpose
You should choose a name that represents the purpose of your nonprofit corporation. Ideally, when deciding how to name a nonprofit, the name should make sense and reflect the mission and actions of your organization. As mentioned earlier, many nonprofits have rather vague names that do not effectively define their brand or tell people what it is that they do — these organizations will likely lose donors due to confusion.
For example, if your nonprofit provides homes for dogs, you could name your organization “Fido Forever Homes” or “Furry Friends Shelter.” If your nonprofit delivers educational services to special needs children, you could choose a name that embraces the values of education and hope, such as “Special Needs, Super Futures” or “Star Students.” These are just a few simple examples, but the point is this, you should consider naming your nonprofit something that reinforces your brand and helps define an identity for your organization.
Are you drawing a blank when it comes to nonprofit names? You’re not alone. For that reason, Incfile has built the perfect solution — our free Business Name Generator tool. The process is extremely simple to generate a long list of names to either choose from or use to stir up your own name. All you need to do is type in a keyword that mirrors the business or industry you’re getting into and hit the submit button.
Your nonprofit’s name is often the first thing people will learn about your organization, so make it memorable and clear — give people an easy-to-remember name that shows them exactly what makes your organization unique.
Keep in mind that your nonprofit’s name is often the first impression that donors and stakeholders receive of your organization. From the first moment they see your name on a business card or visit your website, they’re wondering whether or not your organization is credible and professional enough to support with their capital.
Avoid using strange punctuation or unusual alternative spellings of words. Focus on making the name easy to spell and easy to remember. Come up with a list of nonprofit names that are clear and presentable — then, pick one that best describes your mission and that donors would be happy to support and write a check for.
Show That You’re a Nonprofit
To immediately show the world that you are a nonprofit corporation, think about using a word in your name that clearly and succinctly describes your organization as a nonprofit. You could use the word “Charity” or “Foundation” in your organization’s name. For example, “Special Needs, Super Futures Charity” or “Fido Forever Homes Foundation.”
There are many options when naming your nonprofit, so be strategic in how you choose your name to clearly communicate your organization’s mission, purpose, and nonprofit status. Note that there is no inherent legal “meaning” to naming your organization as a “Charity” or as a “Foundation.” You will still need to qualify for 501(c)(3) status regardless of what your name is. Refer to the IRS guidelines for more details.
Check on Legalities
There are some legalities you need to be concerned with when choosing a business name for your nonprofit. Once you think you picked the best option from your list of possible nonprofit names, make sure the name:
- Does not imply it is a government entity or misleads its purpose: Refrain from using names that include words like “national” and “federal” as they are used for state and/or government purposes. It is not allowed to imply that your nonprofit is tied to any state/government programs. You also cannot imply a purpose that is misleading or imply any professional licensing that the nonprofit does not actually have. Rules for prohibited or restricted words vary by state, but some common ones include: bank, banking, Olympic, insurance, United States, credit union, attorney and doctor.
- Contains a designator (should your state require one): In some states, you are required to use a designator (Inc, Ltd, Corp, etc.) at the end of your nonprofit names. For instance, the name Furry Friends Shelter may need to be changed to Furry Friends Shelter Corp or Furry Friends Shelter Inc if your state requires such. Check with your state to understand what is required for nonprofit names.
- Isn’t being used by another company or trademarked: It’s illegal to use another brand’s name in the same state. In addition, you cannot use a name that has been trademarked either. See more on this in the next section.
Look Up Nonprofit Names to See If Yours Is Available
Even if you have chosen the perfect name for your nonprofit, you still need to make sure that the name is actually available and not already being used by some other company or organization.
Why is this important? If your name is too similar to that of another existing company or organization, you could make yourself vulnerable to copyright lawsuits or trademark infringement claims. The other corporation could accuse you of improperly using their name or infringing upon their intellectual property. Therefore, you want to do your due diligence and look up nonprofit names to see if there are any issues.
When you start a nonprofit with Incfile, your package of incorporation services (at all levels) includes an unlimited name availability search. Incfile will work with you to make sure your chosen name is all clear by conducting a thorough search of your state’s corporation database. In case your preferred nonprofit name is already taken, we’ll work with you as long as it takes to find a nonprofit corporation name that is ready for you to use.
Be sure to also check if your desired business name is available as a website URL (domain name) and social media handles. If they are available, do not wait. Create a username and login so that you can grab those immediately. Otherwise, you risk losing them and the possibility of your business and the domain name/social handles not being easily found since they do not mirror your business name. For instance, if your business name is Furry Friends Shelter, you would want your domain name to be something like furryfriendsshelter.com. The same with your social media handles. Anything different can be confusing to your customers and they may not be able to find you easily.
Get Professional Help Starting and Naming Your Nonprofit
Starting a nonprofit corporation is a multi-stage process that can involve some complexity, which is why Incfile offers a complete package of services to help you form a nonprofit corporation. But one of the most important steps of the process of forming a 501(c)(3) organization is seemingly simple: naming your nonprofit. Choosing the right name for your nonprofit will help you create a distinct identity and brand, clarify your mission and purpose and build credibility with donors.
Your nonprofit’s name is the first impression that many donors, partners and stakeholders will get about your organization — are you ready to make a positive mark?