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 in North Carolina
Most nonprofits in North Carolina 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. State requirements in North Carolina include:
- Your corporation’s name must be distinguishable from any other name on record within the state of North Carolina, including any reserved names.
- Your corporation’s name can’t contain any words or phrases that imply a purpose other than that stated in the Articles of Incorporation.
- Your corporation’s name can’t contain any words or phrases considered grossly offensive.
Unlike many other states, North Carolina doesn’t require a nonprofit corporation’s name to include an identifier such as “company,” “incorporated,” “corporation,” “limited partnership,” “partnership,” or any equivalent abbreviation.
Tax Exemption 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:
- North Carolina Business Entity Search
- Domain Name Search
- Federal Trademark Search
- Web and Social Media Search
To operate a nonprofit corporation in North Carolina, its name must be unique. You can easily check if your chosen name is available by performing a search using the North Carolina Business Entity 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.
If you need help with getting a logo for your nonprofit, try branding your business with our Free Logo Maker! Get a unique logo in minutes and start building your nonprofit's brand immediately.
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.
Step 4: Register Your Nonprofit Name
After you choose your nonprofit’s name and confirm its availability, the next step involves registering the organization’s name. You have a few options to achieve a name registration:
In North Carolina, domestic nonprofit corporations are not required to file for a name reservation before incorporation. 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.
To file a corporate name reservation in the state of North Carolina:
- Mail an Application to Reserve a Business Entity Name to the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State along with the $30 filing fee.
- Or, apply by uploading the same form online.
Name reservations for nonprofit corporations in North Carolina last 120 days and can’t be renewed once it expires.
Incorporating is the most common way to organize a nonprofit and, once you select a name, it’s the next step in making your nonprofit official. Forming a corporation in North Carolina 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 an assumed business name, also called a doing business as (DBA) name, in North Carolina 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 or assumed business name in North Carolina, check out our step-by-step guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I start a nonprofit corporation in North Carolina?
To officially incorporate a nonprofit in North Carolina, you must file the Articles of Incorporation with the North Carolina Secretary of State. You also must complete several other essential steps before you file that formation document, which you can find in our step-by-step guide to starting a nonprofit in North Carolina.
How much does it cost to start a nonprofit in North Carolina?
Filing the Articles of Incorporation with the North Carolina Secretary of State requires a fee of $60.