A lot rests with the name of your nonprofit and even on what you name your projects and programs. Will your name become a household word? Will it convey quickly and eloquently what you do? Or will it be a meaningless acronym or hodge-podge of stuffy lingo that only insiders to your field really understand?
Many organizations spend thousands or even millions of dollars on research to determine just what to name themselves. But, a group of people with common sense can brainstorm names too and come up with winners.
The authors of Strategic Communications for Nonprofits point out that during the 1960s and 70s a group of government officials came up with the names for some federal agencies and programs by simply discussing among themselves appropriate but powerful words. The results? Peace Corps, Environmental Protection Agency, Head Start, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
These names have become memorable and garner instant recognition...some do so across the globe. What do these names have in common?
They embody the mission of the program within the name. They use short, powerful and descriptive words. They are easy to remember and to say. Some nonprofit names are so powerful that even their acronyms resonate...think of the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) or the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).
The first step in naming your nonprofit or one of its programs is to start with the mission. If you don't have a succinct and memorable mission, rework it so that it is all of those things. Then think about a name.
In formulating your name, use action words: protect, prevent, cure, heal, give, rescue, love, feed. Find short words to describe whom you serve: child, poor, hungry, homeless, deprived, needy, families. Brainstorm concepts, values, solutions, and problems that resonate with most people. Use words that are concrete, not abstract; or make those abstractions concrete. Love is abstract, but "love thy neighbor" is concrete.
Sure, you might say, but all the great nonprofit names have been taken...names such as The American Cancer Society, the American Red Cross, the March of Dimes.
But naming goes on. There is no end to the possibilities. Just think of some of the powerful names today that have gained public recognition very quickly:
- Teach for America
- Kiva (Kiva means "agreement" in Swahili, but notice that Kiva's tagline, "loans that change lives," explains its mission. )
- Feed the Children
- Doctors Without Borders
- World Wildlife Fund
- Save the Whales.
What's in a name? For your nonprofit, maybe everything.
- How to Write Great Taglines and Mission Statements
- Making Your Nonprofit's Name Legal
- Mission Impossible? How to Write Your Mission Statement
- 5 Steps to Defining Your Nonprofit's Brand
Strategic Communications for Nonprofits: A Step-by-Step Guide to Working with the Media, Bonk, Tynes, Griggs, Sparks, Second Edition, Jossey-Bass, 2008.