Of all the elements that make up a brand, whether a for-profit or non-profit enterprise, your name is the most crucial. It is the heart of your brand, the start of your story. It is generally the longest living artifact of your enterprise. Moreover, it is plastered everywhere — on websites, social media pages, in print and digital ads. So, if you’re thinking of starting a non-profit organization, have a look at the 12 names below for inspiration during the naming journey.
Kettlebells4Kid’s mission is to break the cycle of homelessness by bringing the power of fitness to homeless children living in shelters. To achieve this mission, they support coaches who go to homeless shelters and get kids moving. The name Kettlebells4Kids is a success on two levels — it maps directly to their CrossFit Gym partners (who are known for using kettlebells in adult workouts) and its repeated “k” gives the name a kick — it makes it fun to say and hear.
Takeaway: If you have a strong sponsor or donor, look for creative ways to tie your organization’s name to their brand. This non-profit did a great job of that in aligning their brand name with CrossFit’s use of kettlebells. That said, we suggest a tiny tweak. Using a number in lieu of a word — e.g. the number 4 to mean “for” or the number 2 instead of “to” — is a dated naming convention. The organization might consider a slight refresh — dropping the number “4” and calling themselves Kettlebell Kids, a crisper, catchier, and more contemporary sounding name.
High Fives Foundation
High Fives Foundation was founded in 2009 by accomplished skier Roy Tuscany who suffered a devastating spinal cord injury while skiing in 2006. In fighting spirit, Tuscany started his own foundation that raises funds for its injury prevention programs and comprehensive rehabilitation center through hosting competitive sports events.
High Five Foundation is a “high five” name not only because its associated with all things positive, but it’s widely believed that the term and gesture began in the sporting world, specifically at an LA Dodger’s baseball game in the 1970s when one player used the hand-slapping gesture to congratulate his teammate after hitting a home run.
Takeaway: Common phrases or idioms can make colorful monikers for non-profit and charity names. They are especially effective when they originate in a field, profession, or discipline that relates to the organization being named. If the expression “high five” stemmed from, for example, the culinary world, it would still work (given the expression’s universal meaning for success), but it would be a tad less perfect as a naming story. If you do plan to use an idiom or phrase for a name, search for one whose origin is rooted in a field that is related to your mission or the population it serves.
Catch a Lift
In honor of her brother, Army Corporal Christopher Coffland, who was killed in action in 2009 during a mission in Afghanistan, his sister Lynn founded Catch A Lift, an organization that provides yearly gym memberships, fitness programs, lifestyle coaching and in-home gym equipment for veterans all over the country. Lynn based her fund’s name on her brother’s belief that if you were physically fit, mentally fitness would follow. The name comes from an expression he’d say — “I’m going to catch a lift” — prior to doing living room push-ups or sprints around the block.
Takeaway: Sourcing a name from commonly used words or phrases is always a good approach to naming, but if you are naming an organization in honor of a person, this approach can be even more powerful if the expression is associated with that individual. Catch a Lift does double duty: it salutes Lynn’s heroic brother and also conveys the idea of giving veterans a much needed physical and emotional lift.
The Drive Change mission is to provide previously incarcerated young people with the tools they need to thrive in the food service industry and become changemakers in their communities. This name, like many good names, works on two levels: the well-known phrase suggests strength, power, and transformation, but it also relates to the organization’s use of food trucks as a teaching and learning methodology.
Takeaway: Developing names with two or more meanings is always a good naming approach. In this case, the word “drive” relates to power, passion, and personal transformation. It also cues to the literal idea of driving, given the organization’s use of food trucks.
The Fledgling Fund
The Fledgling Fund awards grants to documentary filmmakers and innovative media artists who support social change through documenting entrenched, complex problems and the impact they have on vulnerable populations. The various meanings of fledgling — baby bird, apprentice, neophyte — references the media artists the fund supports as well as the vulnerable populations whose stories they tell.
Takeaway: If using a less descriptive name for your organization, you might want to consider a tagline to clarify the name’s meaning. In this case, the tagline — “helping stories take flight” — plays to the idea of media artists helping to get the stories of vulnerable individuals and communities out of the nest and into the broader world.
Project Semicolon began in 2013 when founder Amy Bleuel got a semicolon tattooed on her wrist to honor her father who had committed suicide. As noted on the organization’s website, the organization’s name, although sounding arbitrary and cryptic, is anything but — in literature a semicolon is used when an author chooses to keep a sentence going. As noted on the organization’s website: “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.” The organization is known for encouraging people to tattoo the semicolon on themselves as a way of showing solidarity with those grappling with mental illness or the death of someone from suicide.
Takeaway: When looking for a name for your non-profit or charity, look for inspiration beyond words — try a deep dive into the intriguing world of visual signs and symbols to see if you can find one that metaphorically maps to your mission. Not only is this an interesting way to find a unique name, but a strong visual symbol lends itself easily to visual branding, as happened with Project Semicolon’s tattoo. To see an entire poem expressed with visual signs and symbols, have a look at Marriage, a poem by the concrete poet Mary Ellen Solt.
The mission of charity:water is to bring clean drinking water and sustainable water solutions to people in need around the world, especially women and children. And though it is a descriptive name, it is one with flair— it brings together two common words not commonly found together. The name even inspired the organization’s donors to create two water-themed levels of engagement — “The Well” and “The Pool”
Takeaway: Names that invite in other related words or associations (as water does with “well” and “pool”) are especially effective for non-profits who often need terms to express different levels of giving and engagement. And if those terms can relate to the organization’s name, all the better. The name gets additional oomph through the use of an eye-catching colon, a mark used to separate two independent clauses when the second explains or illustrates the first.
Pencils of Promise
Pencils of Promise’s mission is to create strong, well-built schools, foster sustainable educational programs, and create collaborative relationships with communities. The non-profit’s name springs from a touching story. When founder Adam Braun asked a young beggar in India what he longed for most in the word he responded: “a pencil”. Braun handed the little boy a pencil and watched as a wave of possibility washed over his small face.
Takeaway: Names with powerful backstories are extremely effective for both profit and non-profit enterprises. People are inundated with messages, as well as requests for their time and donations. To earn their support, you need to move them. And nothing moves people like an exciting or emotionally rich story.
Born This Way
The Born This Way Foundation champions the wellness of all young people, regardless of their background or orientation, through developing communities that foster genuine connection. Naming the organization after the title of one of her songs (whose lyrics reflect the organization’s heart and soul), is a creative way to call out the foundation’s goals and shine a light on Lady Gaga’s involvement.
Takeaway: Even without a famous singer, songs or song titles are a great resource for organizational naming. If you go this route, however, be sure to get permission from the songwriter or publisher, especially if you plan to use the song as an anthem for your organization or as a feature in one of your campaigns or events.
Lawrence O’Donnell, the American television pundit and host of MSNBC’s The Last Word, teamed up with UNICEF to provide desks to Malawian children whom may never have seen much less sat at a desk. The organization, Kids In Need of Desks, goes by the acronym K.I.N.D. But this organization’s kindness doesn’t stop with desks. They also provide generous secondary school scholarships to Malawian girls who are most in danger of missing out on an education and pays local craftsmen to build and deliver the desks. K.I.N.D, the acronym for Kids In Need of Desks, evokes an intimate, positive feeling that makes you want to join the cause.
Takeway: Acronyms can be impersonal and cold unless they form a real word that match an organization’s message or conveys its spirit. K.I.N.D. is just that kind of acronym. Another one is MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). The acronym K.I.N.D. beyond suggesting warmth, caring, and gentleness, works on a subliminal level: though there is no etymological connection, it suggests the German word for children (kinder) and embeds the word kin, suggesting relatives.
Kiva was founded with the mission to expand financial access to the unbanked. The organization realizes its goal in multiple ways, from crowdfunding loans to addressing the barriers to financial access around the world. And while descriptive names are often the chosen naming style for non-profits as they quickly convey meaning to donors, staff, volunteers, and board members — a brand name with no apparent connection to the underlying goods or services can, over time, be more memorable. Once you know, for example, that a kiva is a Native American ceremonial chamber that can house rituals leading to spiritual or personal uplift, the organization’s name takes flight.
Takeaway: Names with no immediate tie to an organization’s mission or function may require greater marketing efforts than more descriptive ones, but once they catch on, they can be highly memorable. Metaphorical names like Kiva are also multidimensional; they make it easier for an enterprise to stretch beyond its original intent or area. For example, when Hearing and Service Dogs of Minnesota joined forces with another organization outside of Minnesota, their service area expanded. To reflect this expansion and better express the organization’s dynamic spirit, they rebranded as Can Do Canines (a name River + Wolf was proud to develop).
The Crayon Initiative
At River + Wolf, we didn’t know that discarded crayons are not biodegradable and as such, clog up our landfills with their waxy substance. The Crayon Initiative helps tackle this problem by re-purposing the half a million pounds of discarded, broken crayons into new ones. These newly fashioned crayons are then distributed to children in hospitals to provide sick to help ameliorate the anxiety of a hospital stay. While on first blush the name might seem overly descriptive, it’s actually a good choice because of the universal appeal of crayons.
Takeaway: When a single word is packed with positive associations, you may not need to add a lot of extra linguistic bells and whistles. The word “crayon” is one of those words — it instantly draws up carefree times of happy scribbling and for some, the delicious fragrance of manila paper or colors with delightful names like Madder Lake, Raw Sienna, Mango Tango, and Purple Pizazz. But warning: should you chose to go this route, be aware that single, natural dictionary words — especially coveted ones — can be hard to trademark.