Starting Your NonProfit, part 3: What’s in a name?

What is in a name? In the case of your not for profit the name is everything. It is that people, funders and supporters will find you. It is what individualizes you from other nonprofits. To accomplish finding just the right name we are back to marketing again. This time for a bit of research.

You may already have a name in mind. Is it however, the right name? Even more important, remember our Google search for nonprofits in Illinois that brought 50 million hits. Is someone already using that name, or will your name create confusion in searches rather than lead people to your site?

If you are a not-for-profit entity it is about being found, most importantly by those whom you wish to serve. For example, if you were to teach art to a diverse community a name like “Creative Rainbows” might not be as effective as say “Art4Kids.” In the case of my future venture, I discovered that people search for “radio in Chicago,” or “radio, Chicago,” frequently. From that, “Radio in” was born.

People searching for an art program for their child are likely to use keywords like “kids” or “art,” words and phrases that are simple and straightforward. In other words, you want a name that will afford you the greatest visibility and search-ability. These days people will search for you using the internet, most likely. The internet is about Connections and associations. Think like someone trying to find an art program for kids that doesn’t know what they are looking for actually exists. Thinking like your customer is fundamental to any business.

In the digital age we are connected to the entire world. It was once possible that a business could simply hang a shingle up in a town square and they were in business. Now names are brands and brands are domains. Those brand and domains are essentially legally copy written and transcend geographical and global boundaries. If that seems confusing, it is much less confusing and complex then it may at first appear. In fact that daunting new digital Frontier provides simple tools to finding and locking in your brand and domain.

I always begin my search for the basic name, including derivatives, by keeping things simple. Using our example, I might search “art for kids” or art4kids” as well as “art,” “Children”and “kids.” Chances are anything close to your name will appear. That doesn’t necessarily negate the strength of your name, but it will help you define your market, competition and potential networks. If nothing appears in that simple search, add the next level: Your domain. That is, in short, a website such as a dot com or a dot org or dot net. Likely as a not-for-profit you will want to be a dot org. generally speaking. Dot orgs are usually the domain of not-for-profit entities. Dot com are, by-and-large, for-profit.

Finally you must register your domain, just like you would anything else of property or proprietary ownership. There are two ways to do this. The first way is through registry sites like Register and, as well as many others. Then there are the DIY website Builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Weebly or Wordpress. For a fee your name and domain are registered and, again for various additional costs, they will guide you through building your website, or build it for you.

Yu’re almost there. Your non profit is closer than ever. The next up is a short step, but one critical to opening the doors to your not for profit. In the next article we will talk about applying locally to becoming not-for-profit. That will be critical once you get your website up and running and also ultimately in applying to the IRS for your 501 c 3 status.


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