How to Name a Nonprofit in 10 Practical Steps [+ 121 Examples]

Simple Frameworks for Finding a Name That Captures Your Mission
In This Article
How do you come up with a nonprofit name? It’s easy! Well, okay, maybe not easy…but it can be simple. Use these hands-on frameworks to guide your brainstorming and help you name your nonprofit.
How to Name a Nonprofit in 10 Practical Steps [+ 121 Examples]

If you’re in the beginning stages of wondering, “How do I name my nonprofit?”…you’re probably scratching your head and feeling a bit overwhelmed.

In my experience, taking a huge task like naming a nonprofit and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable chunks can make the experience so much easier for you—and the results so much better!

That’s exactly what this nonprofit naming guide will help you. In discrete, easy-to-follow steps, you’ll not only learn how to name a nonprofit but to start the process of naming yours today.

Pre-Naming Essentials: Get Clear on Mission and Messaging

Before we jump into the step by step of how to name a nonprofit, let’s make sure we’re on the same page here. Your nonprofit’s name is definitely important, but it’s just one aspect of your overall identity and just one component of how you communicate your mission to your target audience.

Yes, your nonprofit name will be how people identify you. But it alone will not communicate who you are, what you do, or why your work matters so much.

Those key storytelling messages must be developed above and beyond any name you select. The right nonprofit name will subtly reinforce these brand messages, but it can’t replace them.

With that expectation in mind, let’s get right into naming a nonprofit!

How to Name a Nonprofit Step-by-Step

Follow the 10 simple steps below, from brainstorming to finalizing! If you’d like some hands-on worksheets as you go through the nonprofit naming exercises, download the free guide below.

tablet 2

Get a free nonprofit naming workbook with 12 practical frameworks

Enter your email address below to download a comprehensive 10-page guide to choosing a memorable nonprofit name. Follow along with step-by-step directions and interactive exercises.

1. List the Key Traits of a Good Nonprofit Name for YOU

Before you start working on any specific brainstorming activities, it’s essential to think about what exactly constitutes a “good name.” Not just a good name in general, either, but a good name for YOUR nonprofit.

Of course, there are a few universal characteristics to a good organization name—things like:

  • Unique/memorable enough: It doesn’t have to be something you’ve never heard before, but neither should it be too similar to other organizations.
  • Search engine friendly: It’s important to consider search engines since the vast majority of people will find your nonprofit website by searching your name into Google. A very generic name makes it harder to rank, even when people are typing your exact nonprofit name.
  • Easy to read: People shouldn’t have to work to pronounce your name unless it’s for a specific reason. (If your mission includes work with a certain language or cultural aspect, then an unfamiliar name can be a good choice. But if it’s just hard to pronounce for the sake of being hard to pronounce, it’s probably better to go with something more simpler.)
  • Easy to write: You’ll be writing your name over and over again in your nonprofit website content. Consider how easy it is to write into different kinds of sentences without sounding like a mouthful.
  • Future proof: It’s not dependent on a very specific service or a very specific geographic location, which may or may not continue to be relevant as your nonprofit grows and evolves. It’s also not dependent on the reputation of a specific person (in case that reputation sours in the future).
  • “Sounds good”: You know—it just has that ring to it!
  • Inclusive: It doesn’t include outdated, potentially offensive, or “othering” vocabulary. Any identifying terms have been selected with input from the groups/people in question.

But what else?

Depending on who you are and who you serve, you’ll likely have a few other “must-have” components as you consider how to come up with a nonprofit name. For a few ideas, you may want to consider the following questions:

  • Do you want the name to be very concrete or more abstract, symbolic, or metaphorical? (Both approaches can work!)
  • Should it be connected to, appended to, or reflective of some kind of partner or umbrella organization?
  • Does it have an available website domain (or one that’s close enough to work well)?
  • Does it use any words that could be construed in an unintended manner? (e.g. words associated with a well-known competitor or words that your organization feels are offensive/outdated)

There’s no right or wrong answer.

It all comes down to what makes your nonprofit unique—and the more you actually name the specific traits that would make your name effective, the easier it will be to brainstorm within those constraints.

2. Consider the Tone of Your Nonprofit’s Name

Another key thing to consider before worrying about specific phrases or words is the tone of your nonprofit’s name. The tone—or to put it another way, the connotations—that you’d like to evoke can really help guide the process of naming your nonprofit.

There are two key frameworks that I like to use to do this:

  • Positives and negatives: Ask yourself the questions: What feelings do I want the name to inspire? What feelings do I NOT want the name to inspire?
  • A tone slider: This exercise involves looking at pairs of words and deciding where you’d like your nonprofit name to fall. For example, should it sound academic or casual? Traditional or unconventional? Serious or silly?

3. Brainstorm Anything and Everything

Once you’ve laid the foundation for what makes a good nonprofit name and which general feelings you want to evoke, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of brainstorming.

As a writer and designer for many years, I’m no stranger to the fear of the blank page, and I understand that starting from scratch and saying “Ok, let’s brainstorm—go!” isn’t exactly helpful for many people. So let’s fill the blank page with a helpful framework to guide our ideation process.

When naming a nonprofit, I like to brainstorm within these categories:

  • Words related to the people we serve
  • Words related to the services we provide or the space we work in
  • Words related to the literal day-to-day activities we do
  • Words related to the bigger-picture benefits (AKA life-changing transformation we inspire)
  • Words related to our nonprofit’s personality
  • Words related to our core values
  • Words related to the emotions we want to evoke
  • Words with some kind of personal history or meaning to our organization (like a founding story, a shared symbol, or a special anecdote)
  • Words with symbolic or metaphorical meanings

I know—it sounds like a lot, right?

But getting a lot out of a brainstorming session usually comes down to the constraints we provide. It’s so much easier to start from a concrete idea like “services” than to start with a blank page.

Put the list above into columns (adding any other special categories that fit your nonprofit) and then try to list as many words as possible.

Make it a rule that there’s no wrong, bad, or unhelpful idea! The more words, the better.

You could also crowdsource this step by sending a survey to your constituents, staff, board members, or personal network.

4. Narrow Down the List

This step is short and sweet—to explain at least!

Review your list of words and choose the ones that stand out the most, aiming for somewhere between 3-5 within each column. Put stars or otherwise denote these favorites.

5. Use a Thesaurus and Google

Take your top word choices and start doing some additional research. I usually recommend:

  • Typing the word into a dictionary and a thesaurus
  • Looking it up on WordHippo
  • Doing a google search of the word
  • Doing a google search of the word plus “nonprofit” or “organization”
  • Doing a google image search—great for getting some interesting visual ideas

While investigating each of these words, write down any findings you have. For example, you may:

  • Stumble across a competitor or partner org with a too-similar name
  • Make new associations with a word, inspiring a different idea or direction
  • Realize that a certain word has a slang meaning you didn’t know
  • Decide you hate all of the words and want to start fresh from brainstorming

The main idea is this:

There’s no wrong way to research. Everything you uncover—whether it seems immediately helpful or not—can help guide you with how to name your nonprofit.

6. Apply a Nonprofit Name Framework

The creative process can seem a bit mystical if you aren’t a creative professional, but the honest fact is that a lot of creativity comes down to simply using the right templates or frameworks. It’s rare for an amazing idea to just come out of the blue with no sort of guiding principle, and your nonprofit name is no different.

That’s why I love this practical step to naming your nonprofit organization. You simply take the words you’ve brainstormed, starred, and researched and then plug into a series of name templates.

Some of these frameworks (and examples) include:

  • Noun for Noun: Task Force for Public Health
  • Combined words: EdChoice, Squarespace, OneGoal
  • Made-up or misspelled words: Gyrl Wonder, Technovation
  • (The) Adjective Noun: The Safe Place, The Girl Effect, Wild Earth
  • Word & Word: Out & Equal
  • Acronyms: PETA, ACLU, YMCA
  • Short phrase: United We Dream, Getting Out and Staying Out
  • Command: Feed the Children, Save the Whales, Teach for America, GiveDirectly
  • Alliteration: Girls Going Global, Planting Peace
  • Idiom or wordplay: For Good, Out of the Closet, Food for Thought

Another idea is to try out your phrases with the word “foundation,” “charity,” or “project” at the end.

You can find all of these frameworks (plus a few more) on our downloadable nonprofit naming guide—just enter your email below.

tablet 2

Get a free nonprofit naming workbook with 12 practical frameworks

Enter your email address below to download a comprehensive 10-page guide to choosing a memorable nonprofit name. Follow along with step-by-step directions and interactive exercises.

7. Repeat

Repeat steps 3-6 (brainstorming to plugging in) as many times as needed until you land on 1-5 names that you feel satisfied with. This may take some time, so try not to rush through the process.

It’s a good idea to sleep on it for a while and come back to the list later with fresh eyes.

8. Get Input from Your Team

Once you’ve landed on several names that fit your vision, it’s time to get feedback from the most important members of your nonprofit team. This might include:

  • Executive leadership
  • Core staff
  • Board members
  • Trusted volunteers
  • Long-time constituents

Keep in mind the old adage of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” You should definitely collect enough feedback to make key stakeholders feel involved (and to genuinely guide your name selection process), but at the same time, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with too much information.

Everyone will have an opinion about something as foundational as what to name a nonprofit—so only solicit those opinions that can and should influence your ultimate direction.

9. Consider the Greater Identity

This step is optional but can be really helpful in terms of getting your new nonprofit started on the right footing.

If you have a graphic designer on staff (or access to one on a contracting or pro bono basis), speak with that person about your favorite name ideas. Some names lend themselves especially well to brand identity design or website design; critical components like logos, color palettes, and visual design motifs can suggest themselves naturally if you have a clear direction and a great nonprofit name to start with.

This isn’t a must-have, as a good identity designer can create a compelling visual direction around any nonprofit’s name. But if possible, this can definitely help you choose between a good name and a GREAT name.

10. Finalize the Name

With all of the steps above completed, you’re ready to choose a name. Drum roll, please!

But…before you roll out the red carpet for your new name, take a minute to do some last-minute due diligence:

  • Do a final google search for any versions of the name plus “organization” or “nonprofit” to make sure there are no direct competitors within your area.
  • Check a public database like ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer to verify there are no other organizations with the rights to use this name.
  • Use a tool like Google domains or Namecheap to check that the domain (or an acceptably close one) is available for purchase.
  • Check your state’s registration laws to make sure that you are not using any restricted words (e.g. “bank”), which could affect your approval for tax-exempt status.
  • Consider running your name by a legal professional to make sure there are no “gotchas” that you aren’t aware of. Doing this first can save headaches later.

That’s it! With the steps above, you’re fully equipped to come up with a nonprofit name that is unique, memorable, and the perfect foundation for communicating your mission.

Need more inspiration? Then check out our list of nonprofit names below.

121 Great Charity and Nonprofit Names to Inspire You

One of the best tips to learn how to name a nonprofit? Check out other nonprofits to see how you like the sound of their names! Here are some of our favorites:

  1. The Trevor Project
  2. Futures Without Violence
  3. Ecotrust
  4. Make Way for Books
  5. Union of Concerned Scientists
  6. Worldreader
  7. Malaria No More Fund
  8. Partners in Health
  9. World Wildlife Fund
  10. Jones Valley Teaching Farm
  11. Friends of the Earth
  12. Earthjustice
  13. Hire Heroes USA
  14. World Bicycle Relief
  15. Black Girls Rock!
  16. Abby’s House
  17. Walkway Over the Hudson
  18. Center for Biological Diversity
  19. Family Equity
  20. Peace Over Violence
  21. WE ACT for Environmental Justice
  22. Rare
  23. Young Women’s Trust
  24. GRASP
  25. Government Accountability Project
  26. The Parenting Center
  27. Equality Now
  28. StreetLaw Inc.
  29. Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue
  30. Pollinator Partnership
  31. Foodlink
  32. FosterAll
  33. A Place Called Home
  34. Jack & JIll Children’s Center
  35. A Ride for the Wounded
  36. Generation Citizen
  37. EdChoice
  38. Charity: Water
  39. Medical Students for Choice
  40. OneGoal
  41. Adelante Mujeres
  42. Fresh Lifelines for Youth
  43. Water for South Sudan
  44. Garden of Dreams Foundation
  45. ActionAid
  46. Waterkeeper Alliance
  47. Adopt-A-Family
  48. Global Health Corps
  49. A Better Chance
  50. Grantmakers for Education
  51. Fish Forever
  52. neverthirst
  53. Alley Cat Allies
  54. Race to Erase MS
  55. Rainforest Action Network
  56. Single Parent Project
  57. Re:power Fund
  58. Solar Cookers International
  59. Eye to Eye
  60. Right to Play
  61. MA’O Organic Farms
  62. AmazonWatch
  63. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
  64. MIND Research Institute
  65. Amigos de las Américas
  66. Hidden Villa
  67. Art21
  68. Heal the Bay
  69. Leave No Trace
  70. Harmony Project
  71. Main Line Animal Rescue
  72. Riverfront Recapture
  73. All the Paws
  74. Healthy Schools Campaign
  75. The Heat and Warmth Fund
  76. Hunter’s Hope Foundation
  77. Russian Arts Foundation
  78. nourish.NJ
  79. To Write Love on Her Arms
  80. Human Rights Watch
  81. Studio in a School
  82. GiveDirectly
  83. WordPartners
  84. Uncommon Schools
  85. Charity Navigator
  86. One Acre Fund
  87. The Random Acts of Kindness Center
  88. Neighborhood Legal Services Program
  89. Ozarks Food Harvest
  90. 10,000 Degrees
  91. Gyrl Wonder
  92. Wild Montana
  93. Share the Struggle
  94. Big Shoulders Fund
  95. Technovation
  96. PENCIL
  97. NEXT for AUTISM
  98. World Vision
  99. Immunization Action Coalition
  100. Save the Sound
  101. The Walden Woods Project
  102. Blue Water Baltimore
  103. The Equal Rights Center
  104. Trees Atlanta
  105. The Girl Effect
  106. Nepal Youth Foundation
  107. Wild Earth
  108. Eva’s Village
  109. Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
  110. United We Dream
  111. Getting Out and Staying Out
  112. Feed the Children
  113. Save the Whales
  114. Teach for America
  115. GiveDirectly
  116. Americorps
  117. Girls Going Global
  118. Planting Peace
  119. Out of the Closet
  120. Montana Native Women’s Coalition
  121. Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum

Know that you know how to name your nonprofit…are you ready to get started? Grab your nonprofit naming guide by entering your email below!

tablet 2

Get a free nonprofit naming workbook with 12 practical frameworks

Enter your email address below to download a comprehensive 10-page guide to choosing a memorable nonprofit name. Follow along with step-by-step directions and interactive exercises.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published or shared. Required fields are marked *.