How to Avoid a Lawsuit When Choosing a Name For your Nonprofit

The name “Revolution Leadership” came to me at the same time that I was inspired to start the nonprofit. I was fortunate that the name was available despite the fact that I did not know the principles in this chapter. As a practicing attorney, I regularly encounter well-intentioned nonprofit founders that are facing legal ramifications due to them not knowing the things we are about to cover in this chapter when they initially chose their nonprofit’s name.

The Importance of Your Name

In the nonprofit industry, the name you choose is very important. Your name is what donors, volunteers, board members, community leaders, corporate sponsors, etc. need to be able to remember in order to donate to you and support you. If your name is not catchy enough, or memorable enough, supporters will have a tough time spelling it. Since more and more people look up information on their phones and tablets, if it takes them too long to find you online, they may spend their time locating one of your competitors and supporting their nonprofit instead. Therefore, your goal should be to choose a name that your supporters will remember but also a name that you can legally protect.

How are Names Legally Protected?

Before we can talk about how to avoid breaking the law when it comes to choosing the name of your nonprofit, let’s first understand how names are legally protected.

The body of law that governs ownership of names, logos and slogans is called trademark law. Trademark law is governed by state and federal law.

By definition, a trademark is a name (words) or a design (logo) intended to distinguish a good or service (your nonprofit) from similar goods or services by others in the market (your competition).

As long as you are using the name of your nonprofit in connection with your nonprofit services in commerce, you may be able to protect your name if certain criteria are met that we will cover over the next few blog posts.


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