Starting a Nonprofit

1. Choose a Name

Before taking any legal steps to form a nonprofit corporation in Pennsylvania, you will want to conduct a name availability search to determine whether your desired name is available in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, you can search corporate name availability on the Department of State website here:

Choosing a name for your new nonprofit can sometimes be complicated depending on the name you choose, and so you should do more than just check to see whether the name you want to use is available in Pennsylvania. Download our Legal Checklist for Choosing a Name for a checklist of steps to take when choosing a name for your new nonprofit.

In Pennsylvania, fictitious names are “doing business as” names (also sometimes referred to as “DBA’s”), and they are often shorter versions (or an acronym) of an organization’s full legal name. Unlike for-profits operating in Pennsylvania, which have to register any fictitious names they use, nonprofit corporations operating in Pennsylvania can choose whether they want to register their fictitious names. Nonprofit corporations must use the DSCB Form 54-311 to register a fictitious name with the Pennsylvania Department of State. The filing fee is $70. Nonprofit organizations do not have to publish legal notice of their fictitious name registrations. While it is a best practice for nonprofit corporations to register their fictitious names with the Pennsylvania Department of State, registration of a fictitious name does not create any exclusive or other right in the fictitious name. In other words, a nonprofit corporation cannot keep others from using a name for a new corporate entity formed in Pennsylvania if the nonprofit corporation has only registered its name as a fictitious name. To reserve a name, see the note below; and to incorporate, see Step #3 further below.

To reserve a corporate name in Pennsylvania, in order to keep others from using the name for an entity formed or doing business in Pennsylvania, nonprofit corporations either must incorporate using the name (see Step #3 below) or must file a name reservation with the Pennsylvania Department of State using DSCB Form 15-208. The filing fee is $70. Note that a name reservation is not a trademark registration. Nonprofit corporations should confer with legal counsel about whether to register any trademarks or service marks for their names, logos, and other marks. Nonprofit organizations do not have to publish legal notice of their name reservations.

You should confer with a lawyer to discuss what, if any, options your organization may have to keep others from using its name.  The answer will largely depend on your organization’s name choice and its uses, others’ uses, and any registrations. You can start with a search of the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to see what other trademark registrations may already exist, but you should confer with legal counsel to run more comprehensive and reliable searches on other databases and to advise your organization about the steps it can take to protect any rights it has in its names, logos, and other marks – and to help ensure that your organization is not violating anyone else’s rights when it chooses its name.

If your nonprofit corporation wants to use a name that is already registered as an entity name in Pennsylvania, it will be required by the Department of State to complete a Consent to Appropriation of Name form, DSCB Form 19-17.2.

If you want to name your organization after someone, your organization will want to confer with a lawyer about obtaining permission to do so. Download our Name and Likeness License Agreement for a sample permission agreement.