If you’re working on forming a nonprofit, odds are you’ve already put some thought into what you want to call it. If you’ve been operating as an informal grassroots organization for some time now, you may even already have a name!
Either way, before you start down the road to formal nonprofit incorporation, make sure to run your desired name(s) through this final checklist. If your name doesn’t meet these criteria, or you have other backup names—remember to keep those in your back pocket as names for your nonprofit’s future programs!
☑️ Name includes strong, memorable and descriptive language
Your organization’s name will establish a first impression for many potential donors, funders and supporters in the future. If it can be evocative, great. But if nothing else, choose words that clearly and concisely communicate your nonprofit’s mission.
Try and keep it concise, but not so vague that it’s forgettable or confusing. Remember, your chosen name will show up in donors’ bank statements — and you don’t want them to not recognize their contribution to you, which risks costly chargebacks.
If your desired name includes several words, make sure and consider what the acronym is because whether or not you intend to use that acronym in your own communications, you can sure as heck bet that your supporters will end up using it.
☑️ Name is distinguishable from other incorporated nonprofits
To see if your name is free for use, search the USPTO’s free Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) here. Then, make sure that it isn’t already taken by any other similar entities incorporated in your state. Secretary of State offices typically provide a Business Name Search on their website. These are the authorities who will ultimately be approving your incorporation paperwork, and they need to be able to distinguish your corporation from others they oversee. Run your desired name through their public database to make sure it’s not already taken.
And while name uniqueness isn’t a requirement for federal tax-exempt status, it sure helps avoid confusion on the part of future donors and supporters. Guidestar’s nonprofit search is a great way to see what similarly named 501(c) organizations are out there. And needless to say, if you haven’t run your desired name through a Google search, now is the time.
☑️ Name isn’t likely to mislead the public
Make sure that your name won’t be construed as “likely to mislead the public” about your nonprofit’s purpose. For example, you don’t want to choose a name that sounds like you are posing as a government agency. You also probably shouldn’t choose a name like “Feed the Homeless” if your primary work is pet rescue.
☑️ Appropriate website domain(s) are available to register
To run a successful nonprofit, you’ll ultimately need to establish an online presence. One critical piece of that is creating a website where folks can learn about your work, donate, register for events, or sign up to volunteer.
That website should have an appropriate custom URL—otherwise known as a domain name—which you will want to purchase through a domain registrar. We recommend a reputable registrar like NameCheap. Some good rules of thumb for choosing a strong domain:
Keep it short: According to NameCheap, “on average, the most successful websites have nine character domain names and range from one to two words”. The fewer letters in your domain, the easier it will be to type—ergo less room for typo error.
Keep it intuitive: Most nonprofits opt to register a domain name that corresponds with their organization’s name. That said, if your nonprofit’s name is unavoidably lengthy, don’t be afraid to abbreviate it or use an acronym. Just make sure that you can plug your website in an offline conversation without having to spell it out letter-by-letter.
Once you’ve got an idea of what domain name you want, you can use the NameCheap search to check that it is available. Most nonprofits choose to register under a “.org” top-level domain (TLD) — a convention worth sticking to. If you find an available domain that works, lock that bad boy down ASAP!
If the one you want is already taken, don’t be afraid of new TLDs like “.us”, “.fund”, “.foundation”, or “.gives”. You can always register the same domain name under multiple TLDs, and redirect them to whichever primary domain name you ultimately settle on.
☑️ Official name complies with state legal requirements
Your state may have other naming requirements, such as including a corporate suffix (e.g. Inc.), which you can check for here. While you won’t need to include these suffixes in every informal public communication, you will need to list it in your Articles of Incorporation. More on that later.
Disclaimer: The information included on this page and on related pages is for general informational purposes only, and is not intended to be relied on as legal or tax advice or opinion. Every situation is unique and NationBuilder does not recommend acting on information obtained from this page and related pages without consulting legal or tax professionals.
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