Name Your Nonprofit in 4 Easy Steps
Step 1: Choose the Right Name for Your Nonprofit
Selecting the right name for your organization is an important task. In order to choose the name that best represents your nonprofit’s mission and purpose, we recommend following these guidelines:
- Be specific. A nonprofit’s name should be direct and specific enough to convey its mission. Avoid using vague words or terms that could confuse donors and prospective clients about your organization’s purpose.
- Make it memorable. Memorability is essential when selecting a name for any business. For nonprofits, selecting a name that will stick in the minds of those who come across it will not only improve your organization’s exposure among donors and volunteers but also make it easier for potential clients to find your services.
- Keep it professional. Nonprofits rely heavily on their public image in order to attract donors or clients who may use their services — and their first impression will stem from your organization’s name. For this reason, your nonprofit needs a professional name that communicates a serious dedication to its mission and purpose.
- Make it emotional. Whether your organization provides services for animals, displaced persons, or any other community, emotion and charity have a strong bond. Selecting a name that appeals to the emotions of both donors and clients will help build trust as well as your organization’s credibility.
We recommend selecting at least four to five names that fit your criteria before you start researching their availability. This approach will increase your chances of securing a unique and available name.
Step 2: Follow the Nonprofit Naming Rules
Most nonprofits are organized as corporations, but you can choose to organize a nonprofit in four other ways: an unincorporated association, a trust, an association, or a limited liability company (LLC). Each option has specific naming requirements you must follow.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the requirements for naming a nonprofit corporation.
Corporation Name Requirements
Incorporating is the most common way to organize a nonprofit. While naming rules for corporations vary by state, some requirements apply nationwide. These standard requirements include:
- Your corporation’s name must include “corporation,” “company,” “incorporated,” “limited,” or an abbreviation of any of these terms.
- Your corporation’s name must be unique within your state, including any reserved names.
- Your corporation’s name can’t include any words that may infer it’s related to a government agency.
- Your corporation’s name can’t include words like “university,” “bank,” or “trust” without necessary permissions.
Tax Exmption Requirements
If you plan to file for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), pay close attention to the wording you use in your nonprofit’s name. Any words that imply a political or lobbying affiliation may hinder your ability to file for 501(c)(3) status.
Step 3: Check If Your Business Name Is Available
After you chose one or several name options for your nonprofit, you’ll need to make sure it’s available. Every nonprofit must have a distinguishable name so it’s helpful to confirm the availability of your desired name prior to incorporation.
The top four searches you should perform include:
- State Name Availability Search
- Domain Name Search
- Federal Trademark Search
- Web and Social Media Search
Nonprofit corporations must have a distinguishable business name in order to operate. For this reason, you need to search for your business name at the state level before incorporation.
To check the availability of your chosen business name in your state, use our Secretary of State name search tool.
We strongly recommend that you also check to see if your business name is available as a web domain (URL). Even if you don't plan to create a business website today, you may want to buy the web address to prevent others from acquiring that domain name. It’s a free search.
You can easily check if someone already trademarked your chosen nonprofit name by using the federal Trademark Electronic Search System. This is important even if you don’t plan to incorporate your nonprofit right away.
Once you confirm that no one else already trademarked your chosen name, you can apply for a trademark for your nonprofit.
A strong social media presence will play a key role in expanding your reach to potential donors or clients that will use your services. That makes it important to search the web and popular social media platforms for your desired name before registering it to ensure it’s available on all the platforms where you plan to promote your organization.
A name reservation isn’t required in all states. However, reserving a name can prove beneficial — especially if you aren’t ready to incorporate, but want to ensure the availability of your chosen name.
Incorporating is the most common way to organize a nonprofit, and once you select a name, it’s an initial step in making your nonprofit official. Forming a corporation involves a few easy steps:
- Name Your Corporation
- Choose a Registered Agent
- Choose Your Corporation's Initial Directors and Share Structure
- File the Formation Documents
- Get an EIN
Filing a doing business as (DBA) name allows your nonprofit to operate using a different name than its legal, registered business name. This can prove especially helpful if you want to change the name of an existing organization without filing an amendment to your Articles of Incorporation.
To learn how to file a DBA name in your state, check out our How to File a DBA guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you need a DBA name for a nonprofit?
No, a doing business as (DBA) name isn’t required for nonprofit entities. But, a DBA name can prove helpful if a nonprofit wants to change its name without filing an amendment to its original formation document.
How do I add a DBA name to a nonprofit?
The process for filing a DBA name varies by state. You can find the specific steps required to file a DBA name in your state by selecting your state from the dropdown menu in our How to File a DBA full guide.