I live in California. My state secretary’s office requires me to incorporate as a nonprofit if I plan on filing for exempt status through the state and the federal government.
But in order to do this you have to first register your name with the California State Secretary’s office.
The name of your organization matters just like naming a child – its that important.
It is your first marketing tool and it will lay the foundation for your mission statement or should reflect it if you haven’t got one yet.
It did not take us long to find our name because I followed a set of rules that my friends and I came up with several years ago while mocking terrible names of other institutions, businesses, and organizations. You don’t want your nonprofit to get made fun of when it is out there in the public. I’m serious about this guys – I make fun of the names people come up with all the time. I guess, I’m either a terrible person or just good at being a jerk.
- Imagine if the acronym for your non profit spells something terribly embarrassing. Gross.
- Peoples Organization Of Patriots = P.O.O.P
- OR your so trendy that people shrink back in just 9 months-time from the name of your organization. Ew.
- OR If you think you have the best name full of creativity and expression. Ugh.
- [Insert your creative name here]
So those were a few reasons. Not to mention copyright infringement or a name that is misspelled!
Now, some readers may have just got a little offended by my dislike of creativity so I want to explain in a few lines why it’s not a good idea before I give you my naming rules.
Your creative name is not a good idea because:
I don’t doubt your ability to make something sound out of this world and inspiring, but I do believe that it can lead to confused people who don’t understand what “Wild Pineapples” does. Save your clever genius for more creative avenues like a subtitle that evolves over time or a RAD program name. Being the Executive Director of Wild Pineapples can only mean one thing. You’re a farmer. ONLY if you are a farmer and this is a nonprofit for Wild Pineapple farming, than go for it! If not, then I have to say your name is terrible.
My friend’s and I have always believed in naming simplicity. And to give you a clear understanding of type of results that the rules will yield, here are some of the best names that don’t leave you confused at all:
Church – Church of [CITY NAME]
Health Center – [CITY NAME] Health Center (Or Centre if your English)
Youth Group – [CHURCH NAME] Youth Group
Advocacy Group – Advocacy for [ISSUE HERE]
Animal Rescue – [ANIMAL TYPE] Rescue of [CITY NAME]
I think you’re getting my point. So below are the rules…
ORGANIZATIONAL NAMING RULES TO FOLLOW:
- Keep the name simple
- Let the name communicate what you do/who you serve
- Add your region, city/town, or some other area landmark to the name
- Add a subtitle to express more clearly your work and/or your creativity
- Avoid imagery and flowery language.
- Avoid inappropriate acronyms / initialisms like P.O.O.P (Also, if you are working with people across languages you should double check with a native speaker of the people you serve!)
Now you may come to an impasse here if your city had a genius that came before you and established an organization using their old timey version of these naming rules. In that case you are then allowed to get a little creative, but stick to the basics of keep it simple!
In California the State Secretary’s office has a name checker online to see if your desired organization name is available. Use this if available and try out many variations of the name.
My Story of Naming the Youth Center:
I live in Sacramento, California. A city that was first established in 1850. There have been many organizations established over the years here. Many of which do/did what I want to do – start a youth center. Knowing this I did something crazy in one of the oldest cities in the west, I went for the simplest version of my naming rules yet: Sacramento Youth Center.
And guess what? It was available!
No one in the entire city since 1850 had ever thought to use this name for their youth center! Wow.
Not only does this name say it all, but it also commands a level of respect (that I am happy to live up to).
I tell people the name of the center and you know what they do? They nod their head like they have heard of it. Haven’t you heard of it!? I have a built in level of legitimacy that I wasn’t expecting, a name that makes it easy for me to communicate my mission, and one that will stand the test of time.
Now there was one caveat to this name, and that was the initialism format “SYC”. There is a local yacht club that uses SYC, but I felt like it was a different enough organization that should someone find us using that acronym that wouldn’t be confused and vice a verse. I typically only use SYC when I am filling out grants at this point and for a few small marketing materials like our business card so it isn’t likely that people would need to find us by SYC just yet…
Ok, I hope if you are here you at least skimmed this post, and read through the rules, and now understand the importance of the name. If not here is a brief list of the results you can get from using the rules.
3 Outcomes of a Simple Name:
- A name that markets itself
- A name that brings you legitimacy
- A name that will stand the test of time
Good luck choosing a name. Don’t screw it up!