Shakespeare’s Juliet once posed the question, “What’s in a name?” The answer is, “Quite a lot, actually.” When you are forming a new nonprofit or a charitable foundation, one of the first things you’ll need to do is choose a name. This title should not only embody the goals and values of your group, it should also be able to grow with your organization as it matures.
If you are about to form a philanthropic venture, you should take the following steps to determine the best name for your organization:
Write your mission statement first.
A good name incorporates the mission and values of your nonprofit. When the title connects with the objectives, the question “Do we live up to our name?” becomes another standard for measurement and evaluation of your organization. Having even a rough draft of a mission statement will help point you in the right direction while you explore different naming ideas.
With your mission and values in mind, you can then start the brainstorming process. Avoid limiting yourself to a certain timeframe and simply write down anything and everything that comes to mind. The process is pretty simple, but you should avoid involving too many people in the actual brainstorming. While it seems like the right thing to do intuitively, it often results in a name chosen by consensus—one that pleases everyone rather than the one that best fits the charity.
To narrow down the options on your list, you need to identify the characteristics that you want to be part of the name. This requires considering not only your organization’s mission and values, but also how to convey those ideas and to what audience. Two organizations focused on funding medical research, for example, might differ in their naming approaches: one might adopt a title that sounds less “clinical” to the general public, and the other might aim to reflect its national presence. Set parameters and shorten your list accordingly.
Coordinate with your group’s mission and values.
Nonprofit names often coordinate really well with their missions and values in terms of word choice. One example is Feed the Children, which ranked 28th on Forbes’ The 50 Largest U.S. Charities list in 2016. The vision to “create a world where no child goes to bed hungry” strongly connects with the title: “hungry” is the problem, “feed” is the solution. Simplistic tie-ins like this can go a long way towards creating a successful brand.
Appeal to emotions.
Your list at this point should be considerably smaller. Spend time with each of the remaining options to see which names elicit an emotional response. Does the name match your personal commitment to the cause? If you have solidified your mission and values, you’ll find that this exercise will help give you a better idea of which titles have the potential to motivate, excite, or otherwise inspire people.
Use acronyms and initialisms where effective.
Founders of charities and other nonprofits may find that choosing a short title might not be an option for them. If this is the case, you will need to weigh the options that most accurately describe the identity of your organization against those that abbreviate well. Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) is a good example of this principle in that it packs six words into two.
Test your options thoroughly.
Perhaps the easiest way to test a name is to say it out loud. Have others say it out loud, too, and see what it sounds like. Does it sound strong? Does it lend itself to criticism? Does it leave room for growth? Names can quickly get lost in clichés, and not considering potential implications of a title in its cultural and political milieu can also hurt an organization before it ever gets off the ground.
Check for availability.
There are more than 1 million charities operating in the United States, which means that finding a name that is not already in use can be difficult. Before finalizing your decision, check to see that your intended name is available and that you can establish a viable web domain. The URL to your website should be a strong extension of the organization’s title, if not the title itself. Try to register the .com name where possible.
Stay open to change.
Names carry a different connotation for everyone who hears or reads them. Sometimes these titles, by no fault of their own, will fade out, thus making rebranding necessary. Many nonprofit leaders prefer to avoid this option out of loyalty to tradition, but staying open to change can potentially make the difference in a nonprofit’s long-term sustainability.