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The Importance of Choosing a Compelling Name For Non-Profit Organizations

Updated on September 11, 2015

Somewhere, in some training manual, there must be a section on choosing a name. Any writer can tell you that selecting a title is important to the success of an article. It's almost as important as choosing searchable, valuable keywords.

Similar to choosing the right title to convey what your article is about, branding, or brand name recognition, is critical to the success of any organization. Image consultancy firms earn their money by assisting both for-profit- and not-for-profit organizations to present their most meaningful, consistent and attractive face to the public.

Not only must the organization be easily identified with its products, publications, and services, but there should ideally be a clear link between the organization by name, and those products publications and services it offers.

Peter Rabbit and his sisters, heading off to school... from
Peter Rabbit and his sisters, heading off to school... from

What Were They Thinking?

Sometimes, you just have to shake your head and wonder, "What were they thinking when they came up with that name?" One can only imagine that no-one wrote it down to see what it would look like in print.

The Ontario Rabbit Education Organization is, I am sure, a distinguished gathering of intelligent and devoted individuals.

A quick trip to their website will reveal that their concerns are legitimate, and their aims, praiseworthy. Their name, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired.

All that came to mind after reading their name, though, were passages from Watership Downs, and images of the lovely little bunnies from the Beatrix Potter children's books scampering around a school room.

And did anyone note down the initials to see what they might spell?

O.R.E.O. - really?

What's in name?

Yes, a rose, by any other name would smell just as sweet, but if its name were suddenly, magically changed to, for example, "stinkbladder", how well do you think it would do on Mother's Day this year?

"Yes, florist, I'll take a dozen of your best red stinkbladders, please - have them delivered."

"Certainly, sir, and would you like a few stems of ferny cat'spiddle with that? Ferny cat's piddle - our new name for babies' breath.

Perhaps that is stretching the point just a tiny bit, but an unfortunate name can do more to sabotage your venture than almost any amount of blandness. The same is true of website names and addresses. The unfortunates in the following video obviously did not think things through when selecting their URLs.

WARNING - the following video MAY be offensive to some viewers


The Eat My Words SMILE or SCRATCH Test (as seen in The Wall Street Journal), is based on our philosophy that a name should make you smile, instead of scratch your head.

SMILE if your name has these 5 success factors:

S for Simple – one easy-to-understand concept

M for Meaningful – your customers instantly "get it"

I for Imagery – visually evocative - creates a mental picture

L for Legs – carries the brand, lends itself to wordplay

E for Emotional – empowers, entertains, engages, enlightens

SCRATCH your head it if it has any of these deal-breakers:

S for Spelling-challenged – not intuitive

C for Copycat – similar to competitor's names

R for Random – disconnected from the brand

A for Annoying – hidden meaning, forced

T for Tame – flat, uninspired, boring, non-emotional

C for Curse of Knowledge – only insiders get it

H for Hard-to-pronounce – not obvious

If your name suffers from any of the problems in the Scratch category, you may need to revisit it, no matter how clever or cute you think it is.

Take Warning!

All non-profits out there can profit from this example of lack of foresight. The town of Killam, AB has a sign near the schoolyard that admonishes you to "watch out for children playing." A nice sentiment. Immediately underneath is the phrase "Welcome to Killam!"

There's a lesson in this. Before you commit anything to print, whether in your newsletter or on a very large sign, read the copy aloud. You could be saving yourself and your organization from a very red face.

A similar blunder almost occurred during the naming of the then-new technology center in Texas...and yes, this is a verifiably true story, according to one of my profs from the Southwest. The institution was to be named for Sam Houston, and the seemingly obvious, no-brainer response was to call it the Sam Houston Institute of Technology.

I am sure that everyone who has ever attended or will ever attend that venerable school is sincerely grateful to the fellow who decided to doodle a logo using the proposed name's initials.

The businesses whose signs appear below have definitely taken a clever approach with their names. While they may be eye-catching and pleasing to the ear however, they may not be representative of the best choices for a not-for-profit organization.

The name you choose should also be professional. As many not-for-profits depend on grants and government funding for their operating expenses, a name that is both appealing and professional is of primary importance.

By all means, be creative in your choice of names, but remember it is also perfectly acceptable to be straightforward and to the point.

Whatever name you do finally choose, whether clever and cutting edge or plain and pleasing, and no matter how brilliantly you feel it represents your organization, be sure to follow these few simple suggestions:

  • Check out the initials - what do they spell?
  • Write the name the way it will appear in your newsletters and on the letterhead - how will it look in a letter appealing for funds or in one of your fund-raising advertising campaigns?
  • Read the name and the initials aloud
  • Try to think of any nicknames that might be applied to your organization - there will always be some bright wag who can and will create an unfortunate acronym from any initials you could possibly choose. Just try not to make it so easy that you become a sitting duck (stationary target) like the Snap-On Tools Man.

Selected Images from the Top Fifity Clever Business Names -

Click thumbnail to view full-size

© Elle Fredine, 2010, all rights reserved


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    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Too funny! So glad Texas passed on the Sam Houston Institute of Technology LMAO! Great hub, am still giggling! Loved the videos!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much, Enelle. I am so glad you enjoyed it. I was researching topics and stumbled across the Rabbit website. I just couldn't resist!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Very interesting and I learned a lot from this. Thank you.

    • kartika damon profile image

      kartika damon 7 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

      You made me laugh and gave me some great information, RedElf! As usual, well done!

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 7 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Well...this is interesting. I never thought about all this much, but you are so right...and so funny. Liked the video too. Good reading.

    • fishtiger58 profile image

      fishtiger58 7 years ago from Momence, Illinois

      Great article. I know what you mean about names. Applies to almost anything. I know when a fast food place gives a stupid name to a food item I won't order it because I feel stupid saying the name. I often wonder what they were thinking.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      Hello hello - Greetings! So glad you enjoyed the hub.

      You are most welcome, kartika! "A spoonfull of sugar..." ;)

      alekhouse, so glad you enjoyed the video. Somethings just tickle my funny bone and I have to share about them ;)

      I hear you ft58, there are so many, too, you just gotta wonder sometimes ;)

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      That really made me LMAO, especially the Sam Houston Institute of Technology, aka--S*H*I..

      And that video! I nearly fell off my chair! What were they thinking, is right!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      So glad you enjoyed it! I had a lot of fun putting it together.

    • mod2vint profile image

      mod2vint 7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Great article....still laughing!!!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much - glad you enjoyed it. Nice to meet you!

    • anusujith profile image

      Anoop Aravind A 5 years ago from Nilambur, Kerala, India

      Nice topic. See you got good result too...

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 5 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, anusujith.

    • dmop profile image

      dmop 5 years ago from Cambridge City, IN

      I completely agree with all you have said, names are so important for the image you wish to convey. Voted up, useful, and funny.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 5 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much, dmop, glad you enjoyed the article! You really have to give your head a shake sometimes...

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