How to Name a Nonprofit in Illinois

Choosing a name for your 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization is the first step in our complete guide, How to Start a Nonprofit in Illinois. One of the most important decisions any founder will make is selecting the right name. We’re here to help with our full guide to choosing, validating, and registering an Illinois nonprofit name in four easy steps.

Check out our other guides for a look at How to Start a Nonprofit Organization or How to Name a Nonprofit in other states.

Recommended: Use our Business Name Generator to brainstorm hundreds of catchy names (with available URLs) for your nonprofit.

Name Your Nonprofit in 4 Easy Steps

Naming your Illinois nonprofit is easy. Just follow these four simple steps to secure the best name for your 501(c)(3).

Step 1: Choose the Right Name for Your Nonprofit
Step 2: Follow the Nonprofit Naming Rules in Illinois
Step 3: Check if Your Business Name is Available
Step 4: Register Your Nonprofit Name

Use our 501(c)(3) Lookup Table to see if your nonprofit’s name is already in use.

Step 1: Choose the Right Name for Your Nonprofit

Selecting the right name for your organization is an important task. In order to choose the name that best represents your nonprofit’s mission and purpose, we recommend following these guidelines:

  • Be specific. A nonprofit’s name should be direct and specific enough to convey its mission. Avoid using vague words or terms that could confuse donors and prospective clients about your organization’s purpose.
  • Make it memorable. Memorability is essential when selecting a name for any business. For nonprofits, selecting a name that will stick in the minds of those who come across it will not only improve your organization’s exposure among donors and volunteers but also make it easier for potential clients to find your services.
  • Keep it professional. Nonprofits rely heavily on their public image in order to attract donors or clients who may use their services — and their first impression will stem from your organization’s name. For this reason, your nonprofit needs a professional name that communicates a serious dedication to its mission and purpose.
  • Make it emotional. Whether your organization provides services for animals, displaced persons, or any other community, emotion and charity have a strong bond. Selecting a name that appeals to the emotions of both donors and clients will help build trust as well as your organization’s credibility.

We recommend selecting at least four to five names that fit your criteria before you start researching their availability. This approach will increase your chances of securing a unique and available name.

Recommended: Use our Business Name Generator to help you find an available and unique name in your state.

Step 2: Follow the Nonprofit Naming Rules in Illinois

Corporation Name Requirements

Your Illinois nonprofit name must adhere to the guidelines laid out in Section 104.05 of the General Not For Profit Corporation Act:

(a) The corporate name of a domestic corporation or of a foreign corporation organized, existing or subject to the provisions of this Act:

(1) May contain, separate and apart from any other word or abbreviation in such name, the word “corporation,” “company,” “incorporated,” or “limited,” or an abbreviation of one of such words;

(2) Must end with the letters “NFP” if the corporate name contains any word or phrase which indicates or implies that the corporation is organized for any purpose other than a purpose for which corporations may be organized under this Act or a purpose other than a purpose set forth in the corporation’s articles of incorporation;

(3) Shall be distinguishable upon the records in the office of the Secretary of State from the name or assumed name of any domestic corporation or limited liability company organized under the Limited Liability Company Act, whether for profit or not for profit, existing under any Act of this State or the name or assumed name of any foreign corporation or foreign limited liability company registered under the Limited Liability Company Act, whether for profit or not for profit, authorized to transact business or conduct affairs in this State, or a name the exclusive right to which is, at the time, reserved or registered in the manner provided in this Act or Section 1-15 of the Limited Liability Company Act, except that, subject to the discretion of the Secretary of State, a foreign corporation that has a name prohibited by this paragraph may be granted authority to conduct its affairs in this State, if the foreign corporation:

(i) Elects to adopt an assumed corporation name or names in accordance with Section 104.15 of this Act; and

(ii) Agrees in its application for authority to conduct affairs in this State only under such assumed corporate name or names;

(4) Shall not contain a word or phrase, or an abbreviation or derivation thereof, the use of which is prohibited or restricted by any other statute of this State unless such restriction has been complied with;

(5) Shall consist of letters of the English alphabet, Arabic or Roman numerals, or symbols capable of being readily reproduced by the office of the Secretary of State;

(6) Shall not contain the words “regular democrat,” “regular democratic,” “regular republican,” “democrat,” “democratic,” or “republican,” nor the name of any other established political party, unless consent to usage of such words or name is given to the corporation by the State central committee of such established political party; notwithstanding any other provisions of this Act, any corporation, whose name at the time this amendatory Act takes effect contains any of the words listed in this paragraph shall certify to the Secretary of State no later than January 1, 1989, that consent has been given by the State central committee; consent given to a corporation by the State central committee to use the above listed words may be revoked upon notification to the corporation and the Secretary of State; and

(7) Shall be the name under which the corporation shall conduct affairs in this State unless the corporation shall also elect to adopt an assumed corporate name or names as provided in this Act; provided, however, that the corporation may use any divisional designation or trade name without complying with the requirements of this Act, provided the corporation also clearly discloses its corporate name.

(b) The Secretary of State shall determine whether a name is “distinguishable” from another name for purposes of this Act. Without excluding other names which may not constitute distinguishable names in this State, a name is not considered distinguishable, for purposes of this Act, solely because it contains one or more of the following:

(1) The word “corporation,” “company,” “incorporated,” or “limited” or an abbreviation of one of such words;

(2) Articles, conjunctions, contractions, abbreviations, different tenses or number of the same word

Putting It Into Practice

Most nonprofits in Illinois are organized as corporations, but you can choose to organize a nonprofit in four other ways: an unincorporated association, a trust, an association, or a limited liability company (LLC). Each option has specific naming requirements you must follow.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the requirements for naming a nonprofit corporation.

Incorporating is the most common way to organize a nonprofit. While naming rules for corporations vary by state, some requirements apply nationwide. State standards in Illinois include:

  • Your corporation’s name must be distinguishable from any other name on record within the state of Illinois, including any reserved names.
  • Your corporation’s name must include the letters “NFP” at the end of the name if the chosen name implies the organization is anything other than a nonprofit corporation.
  • Your corporation’s name can’t include words or phrases associated with a political party unless permission is given by the Secretary of State.

Unlike many other states, Illinois doesn’t require a nonprofit corporation’s name to include an identifier such as “company,” “incorporated,” “corporation,” “limited partnership,” “partnership,” or any equivalent abbreviation.

Tax Exemption Requirements

If you plan to file for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), pay close attention to the wording you use in your nonprofit’s name. Any words that imply a political or lobbying affiliation may hinder your ability to file for 501(c)(3) status.

Step 3: Check If Your Business Name Is Available

After you chose one or several name options for your nonprofit, you’ll need to make sure it’s available. Every nonprofit must have a distinguishable name so it’s helpful to confirm the availability of your desired name prior to incorporation.

The top four searches you should perform include:

Illinois Corporate/LLC Search

To operate a nonprofit corporation in Illinois, its name must be unique. You can easily check if your chosen name is available by performing a search using the Illinois Corporate/LLC Search tool.

Domain Name Search

We strongly recommend that you also check to see if your business name is available as a web domain (URL). Even if you don’t plan to create a business website today, you may want to buy the web address to prevent others from acquiring that domain name. It’s a free search.

Federal Trademark Search

You can easily check if someone already trademarked your chosen nonprofit name by using the federal Trademark Electronic Search System. This is important even if you don’t plan to incorporate your nonprofit right away.

Once you confirm that no one else already trademarked your chosen name, you can apply for a trademark for your nonprofit.

If you need help with getting a logo for your nonprofit, try branding your business with our Free Logo Generator! Get a unique logo in minutes and start building your nonprofit’s brand immediately.

Web and Social Media Search

A strong social media presence will play a key role in expanding your reach to potential donors or clients that will use your services. That makes it important to search the web and popular social media platforms for your desired name before registering it to ensure it’s available on all the platforms where you plan to promote your organization.

Step 4: Register Your Nonprofit Name

After you choose your nonprofit’s name and confirm its availability, the next step involves registering the organization’s name. You have a few options to achieve a name registration:

Recommended: Read our full, step-by-step guide on How to Register a Business Name in Illinois.

File for a Name Reservation

In Illinois, domestic nonprofit corporations are not required to file for a name reservation before incorporation. However, reserving a name can prove beneficial — especially if you aren’t ready to incorporate, but want to ensure the availability of your chosen name.

To file a corporate name reservation in the state of Illinois:

Name reservations for nonprofit corporations in Illinois last 90 days and can be renewed once it expires.

Form a Corporation

Incorporating is the most common way to organize a nonprofit and, once you select a name, it’s the next step in making your nonprofit official. Forming a corporation in Illinois involves a few easy steps:

  1. Name Your Corporation
  2. Choose a Registered Agent
  3. Choose Your Corporation’s Initial Directors and Share Structure
  4. File the Formation Documents
  5. Get an EIN

File for a DBA Name

Filing an assumed name, also called a doing business as (DBA) name, in Illinois allows your nonprofit to operate using a different name than its legal, registered business name. This can prove especially helpful if you want to change the name of an existing organization without filing an amendment to your Articles of Incorporation.

To learn how to file a DBA or assumed name in Illinois, check out our step-by-step guide.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to start a nonprofit corporation in Illinois?

To file the Articles of Incorporation in Illinois, you can expect to pay a $50 filing fee.

How do I start a nonprofit corporation in Illinois?

To officially incorporate a nonprofit or not-for-profit in Illinois, you must file the Articles of Incorporation with the Illinois Secretary of State, Department of Business Services. You also must complete several other essential steps before you file that formation document, which you can find in our step-by-step guide to starting a nonprofit in Illinois.

How do I find nonprofits in Illinois?

Use our handy Illinois 501(c)(3) Lookup Table to find nonprofits in Illinois. You can use this tool to see if your preferred nonprofit name is in use or not.

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