Charity names - How to choose a good one

How to name a charity

Choosing a name for your charity can feel like a tricky challenge. If you are finding a name for a new charity or rebranding an existing charity, then this post is for you.

The post includes guidance, name ideas and useful resources to help you find a great name for your charity. We give tips on how to verify your name is suitable in the various different contents that you’ll need to use it.

1. Generate ideas

To start with, don’t worry about bad ideas. The first stage should be about idea generation and it is an opportunity to let everyone have a say. We’ve found Trello a great tool for managing this process, with a board for the naming process, a card per idea, and lists that map the process of ideas from inception to final approval.

2. What’s in a name?

Remember that there is no such thing as an objectively great name. A name is necessary but it is not as important as you might think. Your name serves a helpful shorthand for conveying your mission, cause, distinctive, brand values and character. Some of these things can be embodied in a name but often the real connection is made only as people engage with your organisation.

A great brand experience can make up for a weak name but the reverse is not true. This is an important point to understand and it will help you not to get too hung up on finding the perfect name. You can then spend much more time proving you have a distinctive niche for your charity

3. Define your criteria

Even if the name can’t embody everything about your organisation, it is helpful to specify some criteria for what you want to convey. This can form an objective framework within which you can review options and respond to stakeholder feedback. 

Here are some example criteria for you to consider:

Original

While you are exploring lots of charity name ideas, looking at existing website domain names is a good way to see if an idea has done before and by whom. Tools like http://www.bustaname.com/ let you check your name idea across lots of channels at once to get an idea of the competition you might experience.

Simple and short

Find a charity name that doesn’t create confusion. It should be easy to spell on first hearing.

Personality

The charity sector is full of organisations with long names that often get shortened to meaningless acronyms. This is fine for many, but it means more creative charities like Stonewall, Shelter and The Big Issue have an opportunity to stand out. 

Clarity

The desire for clarity can sometimes clash with the desire for personality. This tension is a therefore often a good one to discuss early on. For example, Cancer Research UK benefits from the clarity of their name even if it doesn’t ooze personality. 

Memorable

If you do choose a longer name, it’s a good idea to ensure that the acronym can be said as one syllable (such as Charities Aid Foundation - CAF). The acronym ends up as BPFA for example, it won’t be as easy to recall. Another good tip is to use alliteration (like Habitat for Humanity) as this can also aid memorability. 

Continuity with the existing brand

Before going too far you need to agree on the size of your appetite for change. There will often be strong internal voices pushing for the status quo. Try to weigh this decision primarily from the viewpoint of your target audience rather than your staff. For people who interact with the name every day (particularly your staff), it can feel like a huge change. For supporters who only interact with you once-in-a-while, the long-term impact of a strong name will often outweigh any short-term confusion.

4. Shortlist

Now that you’ve produced dozens of potential charity name ideas and considered what criteria are important to you, it’s time to create a shortlist. Here are some tips on how to do this well:

  • Within Trello (mentioned above) you can use the Voting Power-Up to give all your staff the right to vote for an option. You could even open it wider by inviting other stakeholders to join the board. We recommend only doing this in the early stages. It gives a sense of popularity but is unlikely to provide nuanced feedback you can link to your agreed criteria. 
  • Check the available domains for each option. You can’t escape the prominence of domain names because it will be in everyone’s email address and written on every one of your pieces of communication.
  • Roughly score the options based on your criteria. 
  • Keep your shortlist to around 5. Much lower and it will be too hard to agree the shortlist and much higher and it will lack focus. 

5. Test them out

Your impression of a name will always evolve over time. This is natural and you may find that early favourites drop back quickly. Try running it by a few people, asking them to say it back to you, and asking:

  • What are your first impressions?
  • How would you spell it? 
  • Did it confuse you in any way?
  • Of what does it remind you?

6. Make a decision

Set a deadline and make a decision. Don’t go for the weak option of letting yourself defer it! Of course, the exact decision process will vary from organisation to organisation and always require board approval. This is where all of your stakeholder engagement should make life easier. 

7. Do a final check

Once you have a provisional new name for your charity, run these final checks to ensure your favourite name option is legal and available:

  • Website domain is available. We recommend choosing a .org domain for international organisations and .org.uk if you are clearly UK based. While these domains are not regulated they are typically only used by non-profit organisations. 
  • No similar organisations exist with the same or similar name.
  • The name doesn’t mean something embarrassing in a different language (use this to check: http://wordsafety.com/
  • Check the name is not registered with Companies House
  • Check the name on the Charity Register

Congratulations, you have a new name! 

Visual ID branding guideNow begins the unglamorous job of registering your new name with the authorities and the much more fun job of developing your new brand identity and announcing it to the world

Date: 
3 January 2018
Andy Pearson