The day has come to name your nonprofit, a step which can be both exciting and daunting. With over 1.5 million nonprofits in the US, how will your nonprofit stand out to donors, volunteers and those you serve? How will you communicate your vision through the organization’s voice?
Here are some nonprofit naming steps and tips—complete with real-world examples—so you can extend a strong handshake to the rest of the world.
The Brainstorming Phase
It’s time to get some name ideas on paper. If you have no clue where to begin, try playing a word association game. It’s helpful if you do this exercise with your team.
With your nonprofit’s mission stated at the top of your page, begin writing the first words that come to mind in relation to your work and the people you serve. These words can be anything from relevant colors to emotions to imagery from your field of work. See if you can get ten words down in a few of these categories. By the end of this exercise, your page might look like a word cloud like this:
From there, you’ll have some puzzle pieces to work with as you consider ways to communicate your business. Experiment with some combinations and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.
As you brainstorm, ask yourself the following questions:
Is it memorable?
A strong nonprofit name will be recognizable, easy to say and spell, and leave a lasting impression. Some nonprofit’s names are even a phrase to encourage action, like Stand Up for Kids, an organization striving to end the cycle of youth homelessness. Avoid using unfamiliar jargon and keep it relevant. If the name has to be long, try a memorable acronym.
What imagery or feelings do you want to evoke?
Think about your primary audience. Are you a disaster relief organization hoping to communicate urgency? Are you a children’s ministry hoping to communicate a fun environment? Using words with emotional connotations or that bring to mind experiences can make your nonprofit name stand out.
Consider this organization’s “punchy” name: Thirst Project. Thirst Project works with the support of young people to end the global water crisis, and no one wants to be thirsty.
You’ll also want to make sure your name doesn’t contain any implications you don’t intend in order to avoid confusion or possible offense. It would be quite unfortunate to name a nonprofit “Clean Roads And Parks” without noting what the acronym would spell.
Keep in mind that not all symbols hold the same meaning across cultures. For example, while many American audiences see the owl as a symbol of wisdom and education, many cultures consider owls a bad omen.
How does the name look and sound?
Say your name ideas out loud, in a sentence, and with a group. Do you like the way they sound? Do you feel the need to abbreviate? The last thing you want is for your name to be a tongue twister.
The nonprofit Habitat for Humanity may have many syllables, but it rolls off the tongue well. The alliteration is catchy, too.
Making it Official
Once you’ve narrowed down your favorite name ideas, it’s time to make sure they’re not already taken, or associated with something else.
Outside of searching the Internet, you’ll also want to try:
- Searching on your state’s entity search feature
- Double checking social media handles
- Seeing if the website domains you’re considering are taken
After committing to a name, check your state guidelines to see if it can be reserved before or during your incorporation process. You’ll want that name to be legally yours. (And if you need help with the legal process of starting a nonprofit, reach out to our friends at Charitable Allies).
Cultivating Your Brand Voice
Your nonprofit’s brand voice is all about the words you use, while the tone is how you use those words depending on the circumstance of the message.
You’ll want your organization’s name, mission, and voice to make sense together. Anyone familiar with the ASPCA and their old commercials can recall the organization’s voice—sympathetic, tender, imploring.
Here are our top ten tips to help you hone your brand voice:
- Research similar organizations. How do they approach their donors, volunteers and those they serve? What do you like/dislike? How will you stand out?
- As usual, keep your audience in mind. How you’d speak to students advocating for environmental justice will be different from how you’d speak to grieving mothers.
- Describe your nonprofit’s personality. If your nonprofit’s brand was a person, what would they be like? Sassy? Encouraging? Formal?
- Experiment with phrasing. Pick out a message your nonprofit will regularly communicate to the world, and write it in three or four different ways, with different tones. Which sounds most authentic to your organization and its mission? Do the same exercise with different circumstances—for example, how your organization will encourage donations. See two contrasting examples at the end of this article for ideas.
- Decide what types of brand voices you’d like to avoid. As you consider who your nonprofit is, decide who your nonprofit is not. Eliminate those options from your process.
- Find where people are listening. Where are people going to hear your message and learn about your mission? Your brand voice should adapt to the medium, whether it be print newsletters, social media or in-person presentations.
- Ask for feedback. How you perceive your organization may differ from how others perceive it. Ask your team and stakeholders what their impressions are of your brand voice, and adjust accordingly—a survey might help you spot patterns!
- Get into the nitty gritty. Sometimes, it’s all in the details. Will your messaging use contractions? Exclamation points? Emojis?
- Create guidelines for your organization. Once you’ve agreed to a brand voice, make sure the team members who communicate with your donors, volunteers and patrons the most are on the same page. Create references for writers, designers and spokespeople to enforce consistency.
- If you feel stuck, ask for help from an expert. We’d be happy to assist you in coming up with a name, discovering your brand voice, and implementing your ideas in a practical way.
Below are some two examples of some great nonprofit brand voices for some inspiration, both with different styles.
Movember is best known for raising money for men’s health by growing mustaches for the month of November. Their brand voice is masculine, but with a sense of humor. Look at all the dad jokes and puns.
Give Back Yoga Foundation brings access to yoga to people with limited access to the practice, such as veterans, prisoners, or those facing difficult diagnoses. Their name and brand voice is simple and clean—fitting for a yoga organization.
Congratulations! You now have several tools in place to name your nonprofit and find its voice, from beginning to end. If you have any questions or need assistance with branding, from logos to website creation, feel free to reach out to our nonprofit marketing experts. We’d love to help bring your mission to life.