Development Crossing

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability

How to Trademark Your Nonprofit Organization

In order to be able to have successful campaigns and raise enough money for your cause, you have to be noticed by various donors. A lot of people forget that donors are consumers too and that is why brand awareness and recognition are very important for standing out from a crowd of other similar, possibly not-so-charitable, organizations. A great way to get attention is registering for a trademark. Here is how you can do so.

What constitutes a trademark?

A trademark is something that identifies and distinguishes one party that provides goods and/or services from another. This can be a word, phrase, symbol, or a combination of those. When thinking of a name, you should go for something that is easy to remember and describes your mission.

Decide what you want to trademark

Once you decide to start the process, you need to determine which elements you will trademark. Will it only be a name, or a logo and tagline as well? For example, the Red Cross has trademarked the red cross and the red crescent symbols. Think about everything that represents your organization and decide whether or not you should trademark it.

Determine your class

You should also determine which class of goods and services your organization belongs to. There are 45 classes, 34 of which cover products and 11 which are for services. The same name can be registered in different classes for different products. For instance, “Dove” is both a brand of chocolate and a brand known for their soaps and shampoos. Moreover, you can apply for multiple classes if you provide all those services. You can look into classes 35 and 36 to see how they relate to your NPO.

Check the availability

After you have found your class and determined which elements of your brand you would like trademarked, you should check whether the elements are already registered. You can conduct a trademark search to determine if you might be infringing the rights of others. Make sure you include common misspellings, plurals and other similarly-sounding words. You can even google it, seeing as how some organizations are not officially registered. Ensuring that no one can challenge you during your registration process or later on in court can give you a peace of mind.

Start the registration process

You should file a trademark application with the responsible government body in your country, or any other country where you want to register. Make your application very detailed, as that can help protect you better later on. There is a fee that you have to pay when you apply. After five years, you will have to file an affidavit which proves that you have been using the trademark; after ten years, you should apply again to renew your trademark. All these maintenance filing requirements also involve fees. The process usually takes six months or longer. Once your application is approved, you can add the ® symbol next to your trademarked elements. A registered trademark provides you with many benefits but it also gives you more responsibility.

Benefits it provides

A registered trademark can have many branding benefits. Having a unique trademark will make the public more aware of your nonprofit and they will easily distinguish it from other entities. Additionally, you will have more control over licensing the name and logo of your NPO, which can help with marketing and fundraising purposes. Making merchandise with your name and logo on it can help raise a lot of money for your cause. A trademark can help you expand your organization as well, by licensing your trademarks to affiliates. Doing this can help you widen your reach. Moreover, having a registered trademark can add value to your organization as other companies usually look for established brands to work with.

Monitor other uses

In order to be able to make the best of these benefits, you should regularly be on the lookout for people using your name or logo illegally. Set up a Google alert to monitor any other uses of your marks by third parties. Imagine someone else having the same or similar name to you and profiting from your hard work. All the money that your NPO could have gathered for your cause is lost. Additionally, if someone has a similar name to yours and is involved in an embezzling or harassment scandal, that can hurt your organization a lot, even though you have nothing to do with the situation. This negative publicity can weaken your brand and have long-term consequences.

Take legal action

To prevent previously-mentioned situations, you should enforce your rights. If you are registered, you can send a cease and desist letter, and if it has no result, you can take the infringer to court. In case you are not registered, there might be a long legal battle in front of you. So, seeing as how the costs of filing for a trademark are a lot smaller than those of a lawsuit, registering your brand’s elements is a great way to protect yourself.


All in all, you can see how trademarking your nonprofit organization can have great benefits for your mission. So, make this a priority and do it as soon as possible to stay on the safe side.

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