​Choosing a Name for Your Nonprofit Corporation: A Quick Guide

Choosing a Name for Your 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. Unfortunately, there are tons of nonprofits with names that are vague or 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.” Then there are 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!)

Regardless of what you do (even saving wacky wildlife), choosing a name for your nonprofit corporation is an essential step in starting a nonprofit organization. The name of your nonprofit is critical to your identity and helps 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: choosing a good name for 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 to choose the right name for your nonprofit corporation.

Be Specific

You should choose a name that represents the purpose of your nonprofit corporation. Ideally, your nonprofit name should make sense and reflect the mission and actions of your organization. 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 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 choose a nonprofit name that reinforces your brand and helps define an identity for your organization.

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.

Be Professional

This probably goes without saying, but it helps to 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 your organization is credible and professional enough to support.

Avoid using strange punctuation or unusual alternative spellings of words; make the name easy to spell and easy to remember. Try to choose a name that is clear and presentable — ideally, one that donors would be happy to write on a check and recommend to their networks.

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, 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.

Make Sure Your Name 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.

If the prospect of a lawsuit is not enough, it’s always best to create your own identity for your corporation. Start your new 501(c)(3) with a clean slate and a new name of your own. If you incorporate through Incfile, we will request a first and second name choice for your nonprofit and complete a name availability search to ensure that your name is available and not deceptively similar to any other legal entity. This is an important part of getting your nonprofit corporation recognized as a legal entity and qualifying for 501(c)(3) status.

When you start a nonprofit with Incfile, your package of incorporation services (at all levels) includes an unlimited name availability search. What does “unlimited” mean? Just what it says: we’ll 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.

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: choosing a name. Choosing the name of 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?

Incfile can help you form a nonprofit corporation with a comprehensive package of services. Learn more about how to form a nonprofit today!


Ben Gran

Ben Gran is a freelance writer from Des Moines, Iowa. Ben has written for Fortune 500 companies, the Governor of Iowa (who now serves as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture), the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, and many corporate clients. He writes about entrepreneurship, technology, food and other areas of great personal interest.

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