Name Requirements for Nonprofit Organizations

With every new business, corporation and nonprofit organization that pops up, another name is taken, and since trademark laws are restrictive when it comes to name requirements for businesses and nonprofit organizations, naming your nonprofit organization can be a real struggle.

First of all, just because you are starting a nonprofit organization doesn’t mean that you can use the name of an already existing for-profit business. The law requires that even if you aren’t incorporating your nonprofit organization, the name must still be original and cannot be easily confused with the name of a registered corporation.

Some states will even check the name that you choose for your nonprofit organization against those of limited liability corporations (LLC’s), general partnerships and sole proprietorships. Since you want your nonprofit organization to have a unique and brandable name, it is important that you choose a name that is unlike any other business or organization that already exists.

You will also run into trouble if you don’t follow your state’s laws for naming a nonprofit organization. Some state laws are stringent regarding this matter, while others are not. You can write or call your local state filing office, or, in some cases, you can check online.

Laws that some states enforce regarding name requirements for nonprofit organizations may include the requirement to use (or not use) certain words in the name. For example, if you plan to incorporate your nonprofit organization, you might be required to use the word “corporate” or the abbreviation “inc.” in the name of your nonprofit organization.

You might also be restricted from using words that imply a for-profit business, such as “trust”, “bank”, “insurance” or “cooperative”. You can check for those name requirements for nonprofit organizations on the Internet or through the state filing office.

And lastly, you might run into other restrictions of you are filing for tax-exempt status. In this case, you will need to avoid using words that might imply that you are ineligible for tax-exempt status. For example, the Families for Peace Trade Association might be a nonprofit organization that could otherwise be eligible for tax-exempt status, but the words “trade association” imply that the organization does make money for profit.

You should also run a domain check on the name that you hope to use for your nonprofit organization. Because of the Internet, you might run into trademark infringements with your proposed name. For example, let’s say that you have chosen the name “Wishful Thinking” for your nonprofit organization. You run a domain name search for wishfulthinking.org and find that it already exists, but for a nonprofit organization called “Hope For Children, Inc.”. Even though the name of the nonprofit organization is not “Wishful Thinking”, you might be infringing upon trademark laws because their domain name has already been selected as wishfulthinking.org.

In summary, it is always best to find a name for your nonprofit organization that is unique and original, and that does not infringe on the rights of any other nonprofit or for-profit organization.

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