Developing a great name for your non profit, charity, ngo or campaign is easy with our ultimate guide to naming an organization.
It’s time to name – or rename – your organization.
Now, you may be thinking, Let’s do this quick and move on. You’ve got a lot to do and choosing a name doesn’t seem difficult or worth investing time in.
Please think again.
You see, a lot hangs on your name. It’s the first thing many people learn about your organization and we all know the importance of first impressions.
Your path to a new name starts with understanding some important tips for choosing great organization names. Keep these in mind as you explore name options.
Once you’re down to a few strong contenders run some organization name checks. Don’t skip this stage as checking a name now is easier, faster and cheaper than changing a name later. Finally, all you have to do is make a decision (for many of us the hardest part!).
5 tips for naming an organization
Tip 1. Your name should tell people what your organization is all about.
This is perhaps the most important tip for naming an organization. Yes, you could tell people about your campaign mission later, but what if you don’t get the chance? People are bombarded with messages making their attention spans notoriously short.
Also consider that people generally need to hear a message at least 6 times before taking notice of it. Don’t waste this opportunity of scoring an extra mention.
Ways of using your name to tell people what your organization is doing include emphasising:
- The issue you are working to remedy
- The thing you are working to protect (e.g. natural place; wildlife; community)
- The outcome you’re working to achieve
You’ll find lots of great examples throughout this guide.
Tip 2. Your name should resonate with people.
Names that resonate build people’s desire to give their support.
Support means more than taking action, attending events and making donations. It also means telling others about your organization and encouraging them to also give their support. Supporters become ambassadors when they feel pride in being part of an organization, and the organization’s name helps develop this pride.
Ways of making your name resonate include naming your organization so that it:
- Provokes a sympathetic response
- Reflects people’s own feelings
- Has a special meaning to people
- Speaks to something people find important
If you plan on using a name that tugs on people’s emotions note that long lasting motivation is best achieved by triggering positive emotions, such as hope, passion and determination.
Students of our Communicate Effective Campaign Messages online course learn to speak to the emotions that motivate action and change, and avoid the emotions that stifle action and change.
Tip 3. Make your name easy to pronounce, remember and spell.
Names that are easy to pronounce and remember are also easy to communicate to others. Word of mouth is free advertising. Don’t miss out by having a clumsy name that people can’t wrap their tongues around or remember.
Names that are easy to spell make it easier for people to find you online, whether searching in Google (and other search engines), entering your website domain or typing your email address.
Also avoid words that have multiple spellings. And avoid dreaming up unorthodox ways of spelling everyday words. Yes, companies use such names all the time, but companies have money to spend on advertising to help people understand their clever names. Do you?
Tip 4. Make your name unambiguous.
Unambiguous names are clear in their meaning.
This does not mean you cannot use a name with multiple meanings. It means that all possible interpretations of your name should come back to the same thing – a reference to your mission or goal.
Tip 5. Don’t use words your organization could outgrow.
Words to avoid include geographic locations and populations. For example, can Save Misty Forest switch to campaigning for the nearby Rainy Forest when a new threat emerges?
It’s not just the logical disparity of asking people to protect Rainy Forest under the banner of Save Misty Forest. And it’s not just the bureaucratic pain of changing names. It’s also that supporters signed up to hear about Misty Forest, and in some jurisdictions contacting them about Rainy Forest may infringe privacy legislation.
The solution is to step back a level or two. To continue our example, naming this campaign Save Our Forests or Healthy Forest For Everyone gives the campaigners the flexibility they need.
Also avoid including a person’s name (e.g. The Jane Doe Project for Healthy Futures) in case this person steps back from the organization or suffers damage to their reputation that you don’t want to be associated with. Of course, this may not be possible if the person is the founder or primary funder and wants their name included.
Nonprofit organization name types
To keep things simple we’re including just two types of organization name – descriptive and abstract.
Descriptive organization names
A descriptive name states clearly what an organization is all about.
Examples (real campaign names):
- Protect Our Coral Sea
- International Fund for Animal Welfare
- Shark Stewards
- Tells people exactly what they’re putting their names to when they give their support
- Includes a reminder of the issue or campaign goal whenever someone mentions the organization (e.g. a TV news reporter saying, Jane Doe from Protect Our Coral Sea said today …)
- Purely functional, so can be uninviting to people unconvinced of the need for the campaign or unexcited at the prospect of getting involved
Abstract organization names
An abstract name gives an impression of what an organization is about, ranging from highly abstract to mildly suggestive.
Examples (real campaign names):
- Knitting Nanas
- Lock the Gate
- Can be charismatic making an organization more inviting
- Can be less confronting (e.g. someone put off by the idea of helping Stop Mining Now may be comfortable with joining Knitting Nanas)
- Requires effort to build public understanding of organization purpose, with more abstract names taking longer and costing more
Well-crafted abstract names have a backstory related to the issue or outcome, providing a further opportunity to discuss what the organization is all about. For example, 350 took its name from the maximum safe amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (350 parts per million) to avert catastrophic climate change (at publication we’re over 400 ppm, so we’ve blown that one).
Abstract names are popular with businesses – think Apple, Amazon and Google. However, consider that these companies have the financial might to build brand awareness. Your organization probably does not, and if it does wouldn’t this money be better invested in achieving your goals?
Using humour and wordplay – Making your organization name fun is a good approach provided your audience is receptive.
However, you also need to appear professional. Remember, you will use this name to introduce yourself to important stakeholders, including donors and politicians. Some may not get the joke, some may not appreciate it, and some may use your name as an excuse to not take you seriously.
Only use humour and wordplay if it fits your organization’s culture and represents how you want your organization to be perceived.
Naming an organization step guide
Take these 7 easy steps to develop your organization name:
Step 1. Establish a naming group
Don’t try to name your organization alone. If you have no organization team-members to work with, recruit assistance from your volunteers or even your friends. As with any idea-generating exercise, you will be far more creative working with other people.
Ensure everyone is on the same page by forwarding this guide to all group members and asking them to read it before your first meeting.
Step 2. Choose a name type
With your group decide whether you will have a descriptive or abstract name. Deciding now will sharpen everyone’s focus. If your group wants to experiment with both name types the process may take a little longer.
Tip – A mildly abstract name can also be slightly descriptive.
Step 3. Brainstorm word ideas
As a group activity create a list of words relevant to your organization. Take inspiration from:
- The issue you’re campaigning to remedy
- Your organization’s mission statement and other organization communications
- Media publications and other public statements on the issue and your campaign (if renaming an existing organization)
- Words your audience associates with the issue and potential solutions to the issue (ask them)
Step 4. Develop draft names
Now take those words and turn them into a list of possible organization names. Our organization name prompts and examples will help you come up with ideas.
Step 5. Refine your draft names
Whether you worked individually or as a group for the previous step, refining your list is very much a group activity.
Here, everything is open for discussion. Improve names that almost work and remove names that don’t work. Establishing some friendly meeting guidelines will help avoid conflict in case passions run high.
Step 6. Check your shortlist names
This is a crucial stage. Draft names that fail any check should be removed from contention or reworked until they pass.
Download our 9 checks to get your organisation name right first time from our Campaign Library (free membership).
Step 7. Decide
A simple word that provokes horror in those who love to keep all doors open. Still, any name that’s made it this far should work well, so in some ways it doesn’t matter which you choose. Hold that thought to reduce the stress of deciding.
Once again, make this a group activity. You may also choose to seek feedback from people outside your naming group, such as organization board members and directors. However, a word of caution – when these people pick a name it may be hard for you to go with a different name. Another option is give your audience a say, perhaps by using an online poll.
Tip – Say the following out loud:
Hi, I’m (your name) from (organization name).
How does it sound? How does saying it make you feel? What impression do you think it will have on the people you say it to (e.g. community members; politicians; donors; reporters)? Will people know what your organization does from this simple introduction or does it need explaining?
And that’s it – your cool new organization name is ready to go!
Organization name prompts and examples
Use the following prompts and examples to help you develop ideas for your organization’s new name.
Note – The following examples include real and imagined organization names.
Prompt 1. Use an action word:
- Conserve Asian Elephants
- Protect Misty Forest
- Sea Turtle Rescue
- Save the Whales
- Stop Sleepy Town Airport
- Defend Our Farms
- Lock the Gate
- Fight for the Reef
Prompt 2. State who is the driving force for achieving your goal:
- Residents for Healthy Parks
- Australian Youth Climate Coalition
- Solar Citizens
- Friends of the Earth
- Ocean Guardians
- Shark Stewards
- Nature Defenders
- Save Our Forests
- Healthy Forest For Everyone
Typically it’s best to spotlight your audience rather than your organization or other group (e.g. businesses; experts). It’s your supporters who are the Guardians, Stewards, Defenders etc not your organization.
A notable exception is when the driving force is highly trusted by the audience or gives great credibility to the cause, such as Doctors for the Environment.
Prompt 3. State what type of organization you are:
- Sea Turtle Foundation
- The Wilderness Society
- Turtle Island Restoration Network
- The Story of Stuff Project
- Nature Conservation Council
- National Parks Association
- Jane Goodall Institute
- Sierra Club
- Rainforest Alliance
- Australian Youth Climate Coalition
Note, in some jurisdictions the use of certain organization types without the correct registration is illegal.
Add your ideas! Use our comments or contact form to add your suggestions for organization name prompts and examples to this list.
Naming an organization summary
The most important bits from this guide:
Your organization name should:
- Tell people what your organization is all about
- Sound like something people want to be part of
- Be easy to pronounce, remember and spell
- Be unambiguous
- Not use words your organization could outgrow
Types of organization name include:
- Descriptive – States clearly what your organization is all about (e.g. Protect Our Coral Sea)
- Abstract – Gives an impression of what your organization is about (e.g. Lock the Gate)
Develop your name by taking our 7 steps to naming an organization.
Make sure potential names pass these organization name checks.
Take inspiration from our organization name prompts and examples.
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