What’s in a name? Prospective parents spend countless hours choosing names for their children. Even in the business world, manufacturers of products as diverse as breakfast cereals, luxury automobiles, and perfumes have impressive budgets to determine what names will resonate with consumers.
Choosing a name for a nonprofit organization (NPO) can be equally as difficult and no less important. Although there may be no consensus on just what it is that constitutes a great name, there are some basic guidelines if you are seeking a name for a new NPO, or considering rebranding an existing organization.
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Here Are Five Tips to Get you Started
1. Brainstorm Ideas
Begin by asking yourself and/or your team some questions:
- What are your organization’s goals, and can you briefly describe your mission?
- Whom do you serve, and where do you operate?
- What programs and services do (or will) you offer?
- What are action words that pertain to your organization?
- What kind of support do you need?
2. Select the Top Contenders
A single choice will rarely be universally approved by your board or naming committee. So, plan to “test drive” your top three choices.
Are they meaningful, easy to pronounce, and distinctive enough that the public will not confuse your nonprofit with another? Does the name look good in print? Will it be easy to read on a business card or brochure?
3. Check the Legalities
When you have identified some possible names for your fledgling NPO, be sure to thoroughly research other uses of the name, similar names, legal requirements, and registration.
Confirm that there are no current or previous uses, such as trademarks of close similarities that could cause potential embarrassment, confusion, or adverse reaction.
4. Confirm Availability
In addition to the name itself, make sure that all of the marketing and branding efforts, including developing a logo and color scheme are available and not under a trademark. Logos and wordmarks can be trademarked too, so double-check that your logo isn’t very similar to another company or nonprofit as well, otherwise, you could get a cease and desist letter down the road.
5. Does the Name Proclaim Your Intent?
This is, perhaps, the most important question.
A good name may not guarantee the success of a nonprofit, but the choice of a name can help you advance your organization’s mission and make its needs clear. The right name helps build trust and encourages prospective donors and volunteers to dig a little deeper for information.
Four broad classes of names are used for nonprofit branding:
The Descriptive Name
A meaningful moniker will tell people immediately what you stand for, either through words or the use of a symbol.
Single-purpose names, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, or The Red Cross, are great examples. So are Feeding America, The World Wildlife Fund, Save the Manatee Foundation, or Boys and Girls Clubs of America. There can be no doubt about the mission of these nonprofits.
Symbolism is also a desirable and useful tool for branding, and the development of an easily recognized logo goes hand-in-hand with selecting a dynamic name.
A Celebrity or Founder’s Name
Using a famous name can be extremely effective to call attention to a nonprofit’s mission and to gain initial recognition for a specific cause. But it is also occasionally a double-edged sword, as has been demonstrated when a celebrity falls out of public favor, or becomes involved in any sort of controversy or allegations of wrongdoing.
Consider the evolution of the Livestrong Foundation, initially founded as the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Even though it represents an example of successful rebranding, no doubt it was troublesome for the organization at the time.
Before deciding to attach a person’s name to your organization, you might want to weigh short-term benefits against long-term goals and expectations. Remember that popularity, in terms of personal celebrity or favor, has a lifespan, and your mission might be better served in another way. There is no “right” decision, but it is a worthy consideration.
Common, effective, and typically used to generate interest, generic labels suggest an organization’s purpose rather than proclaiming it clearly. The name alone might be general enough to prompt a donation without further investigation, but typically it will be intriguing enough to encourage prospective supporters to learn more about the organization. Some effective examples include Ray of Hope, Delivering Good, and Young Life.
Some of the best nonprofit names encompass almost-universal goals and evoke an emotional reaction without providing details. Names like Habitat for Humanity and Doctors Without Borders fall into that category. They are meaningful, memorable, simple, highly effective, and universally recognized.
The Unique Name
What are the mind pictures produced by a name like Robin Hood Foundation? Creative and distinctive, does it make you want to learn more about the specific activities and purposes of this nonprofit? Without a doubt, if statistics are any indication. Founded in 1988, it is on the list of the 100 Largest U.S. Charities.
Other types of unique names don’t give much away, but they generate public inquiry about the purpose. Try not to rely on jargon or pop culture, however, which might be a deterrent or lead to misunderstanding. Use mystery judiciously.
Whether you’re wondering how to start your own nonprofit or optimize your existing one, UncommonGood can help you maximize efficiency and increase engagement through our suite of nonprofit marketing, fundraising, design, and project management tools.