Name Your Nonprofit in 4 Easy Steps
Naming your California nonprofit is easy. Just follow these four simple steps to secure the best name for your 501(c)(3).
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 California
Most nonprofits in California 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 California include:
- Your corporation’s name must be distinguishable from any other name on record within the state of California, including any reserved names.
- Your corporation’s name must include “corporation,” “company,” “incorporated,” “limited,” or an abbreviation of any of these terms.
- Your corporation’s name can’t include any words related to the United States Olympic Committee such as: 'Olympic', 'Olympiad', or 'Citius Altius Fortius'.
- Your corporation’s name can’t include words like “university,” “bank,” “credit union,” or “trust” as a separate word to convey the organization is engaged in banking or trust.
- Your corporation’s name can’t include any terms that could be considered grossly offensive.
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:
To operate a nonprofit corporation in California, its name must be unique. You can easily check if your chosen name is available by performing a search using the California Business 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.
Find a Domain Now
Registered your domain name? Next, we suggest choosing a business phone system to help your nonprofit build authority and trust. Phone.com is our first pick due to its affordability and top-notch customer support. Try Phone.com today.
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 Generator! 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 California, 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 name reservation in the state of California:
- Mail a completed Name Reservation Request along with a $10 filing fee to the California Secretary of State.
- Or submit the form in person. In addition to the $10 filing fee. Each drop-off request must include a separate, non-refundable $10 special handling fee.
Name reservations for nonprofit corporations in California last 60 days and can be renewed once it has expired.
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 California 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 fictitious business name, also called a doing business as (DBA) name, in California 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 fictitious business name in California, check out our step-by-step guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many board members are required for a nonprofit in California?
The state of California requires nonprofits to have at least two directors. However, to obtain 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you will need at least three directors.
How much does it cost to start a nonprofit corporation in California?
To file your Articles of Incorporation for your nonprofit in California, it costs a base fee of $30. However, depending on how you choose to file, additional fees may apply.
How do I find nonprofits in California?
Use our handy California 501(c)(3) Lookup Table to find nonprofits in California. You can use this tool to see if your preferred nonprofit name is in use or not.