Many nonprofits have world-shaking visions, but when it comes to their name they tend to leave a lot of inspiration on the table. The name of your organization is the foundation of your brand, but it can do so much more for your mission. A great name can tug on emotions, help your nonprofit stand out, be easier to remember for supporters, inspire your team, and direct the visual brand. 

You may be thinking: Changing our name is a huge undertaking! We don’t have the time or money for that. But if a name change could generate more excitement for your mission and skyrocket support and donations, how much is the decision to not change your name costing your nonprofit in the long run? What if your current name reflects a time when your organization was focused on an entirely different mission or cause? Or what if your cause hasn’t changed, but you feel like your name isn’t living up to its full potential?

Establishing a strategic name is like raising a flag on your ship – not only does it announce who you are and where you’re going, but it provides inspiration and connection that can play into the visual cues of a brand. This confidence can resonate with the community, making your brand memorable, desirable, and paramount in your field.

So, what’s the secret? The top nonprofit brands that people remember, and passionately advocate for, have visual language in their name and a bold personality that they build their brand around. When the link between your name and cause is unapologetically vivid and emotional, your nonprofit benefits from instant personality and recognition.  Like-minded people will respond to the passion and flock to your cause. Plus, the more personality your brand has, the more fun your creative team can have with the visual brand identity! 

Here are three ways a great name can make for a more impactful visual identity: 

Inspire a Memorable Logo – A strategic name can open a story loop. Instead of telling people what you do, an expressive name can allow the logo to show them. The key to a visual name is to speak to the heart of what you do and why people should support your mission, then you can play off those ideas in a memorable way through the logo.

Take a look at the primary logos of ASPCA and The Humane Society. Both nonprofit organizations fight to end animal cruelty, but only one communicates its identity clearly without any additional help. Looking at the logos side by side, I immediately understand that The Humane Society advocates for all types of animals across the country. Plus, the word “humane” instantly paints a picture of kindness and generosity to further reflect the mission.

In contrast, ASPCA is an acronym that must be supported by photography and marketing to clearly communicate who they are, what they do, and why it matters. I can guarantee that ASPCA had to spend a lot of marketing dollars to make its acronym mean “animal welfare” in your mind. By contrast, The Humane Society is able to clearly tell what they do in a simple icon and logotype.

What’s the big deal? Well, the greatest asset people have is their time. Our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than text, so when it comes to your logo, every memorable moment matters. Taking advantage of a name and logo that do a lot of the heavy lifting for your brand identity is crucial if you want to capture attention and encourage people to support your cause. 

Find Your Distinct Voice – If your mission is big and bold, then your nonprofit can express itself with a similarly strong attitude through its name and brand voice. There’s a myth in the nonprofit sector that we need to tone things down in order to attract every single donor – and while that approach is understandable, it usually results in a bland brand that speaks to no one. 

When your brand has a clear brand personality, it can be very easy to identify messages that are on-brand and off-brand. Plus, the more distinct your voice and personality are, the more quickly you will attract people who will be passionate about your cause. 

One of the most remarkable organizations embracing their brand voice is Do Something – a digital platform that helps youth around the United States volunteer their time and power real-world impact. Their audience drives the voice of the brand and the bold, unapologetic call to arms that serves as their name sets the organization apart from thousands of other youth organizations around the country. 

Develop a Consistent Style – The greatest thing a visual name can do for your organization is to inspire a design style that speaks to your mission and demonstrates your credibility. Not every mission demands a big and bold visual identity, but too many nonprofits play it safe and end up being forgettable because of it.  

The most important tip in building a brand identity is to not confuse your personal taste with what is right for your nonprofit’s brand. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if the design style pushes you or your board outside of your comfort zone, then you’re getting close to the gold! 

Covered is a nonprofit organization that provides survivors of human trafficking in Colorado the resources and skills they need to break the cycle of trafficking in their lives. We had the opportunity to help them develop a brand strategy and bold new look that better reflected their mission. Their simple name “Covered” informed every part of the visual identity, from the color palette, font choices, photography, and even their icon designs. Every element spoke to stability and ambition, as well as sensitivity and hope for the future. The result was a brand that felt human and strong, while also inspiring the brand to expand and breathe over the years.

Renaming your nonprofit may seem risky, but a great name can elevate your visual identity from the get-go and set you apart as the go-to nonprofit in your field. While brand designers can take a boring name and make it look pretty good, there are some serious, long-lasting benefits to working with branding professionals to ensure your name itself is relatable, memorable, and ownable.

A visual name for your nonprofit will act as the catalyst for you to create a brand identity with personality and heart, making it easier for people to know what you stand for and how they can help support your important work. 

Lauren Atherton, Founder of HeartSpark Design

With over a decade of hands-on experience in the creative industry, Lauren shares her award-winning design expertise with agencies, startups, and Fortune 200s as she leads HeartSpark Design, a branding and website studio for nonprofit organizations.