March 29
Protecting Your Nonprofit Organization’s Trademarks: Provide Guidelines for Use of Your Marks by Supporters

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This blog post was written by INTA's 2015 Non-Profit Committee.

Your nonprofit organization’s trademarks and service marks are some of its most valuable assets. Your marks convey to the public the goodwill you have worked hard to build, making it easier for you to raise funds and do good works. You want to continue building that goodwill, and popularizing your marks is a significant part of that endeavor. Your supporters (including members, donors, and chapters) want to help, but the unfortunate truth is that their “help” actually could undermine the strength or validity of your marks if their use of your marks is not proper.

You need to help your supporters help you. A relatively easy way to do this is to provide your supporters with use guidelines so they can use your marks in ways that will maintain your rights as they strengthen the goodwill associated with your marks. You can readily provide supporters with your guidelines by posting them on your organization’s website. In addition, you should include the guidelines in your license agreements.

Following are suggestions regarding what should be included in your guidelines:

  • The Importance of Proper Use. Your supporters, including contributors and members, are some of your greatest fans, and they only want to help you. Why do they have to be burdened with following your trademark rules? Explain how failure to use your marks properly could threaten the strength and validity of your marks.
  • Your Organization’s Marks. Provide a list of your marks and how you want them to appear. For instance:
    • Trademark® Product or Trademark™ Product
    • Service Mark® Services or Service MarkSM Services
  • Guidance for Proper Use of Your Marks. Let supporters know what they can and should do when using your marks:
    • Use your marks as trademarks or service marks, not as generic terms. Specifically:
    • Use your marks as adjectives followed by nouns, not as nouns or verbs.
    • Use your marks in the singular, not in the plural or possessive.
      • Correct: “[Your organization]’s [Trademark]® charitable services provide help to many people.”
      • Incorrect: “[Your organization]’s [Trademark]s provide help to many people.”
    • Distinguish your marks from the surrounding text, such as by using (a) initial capitals and the appropriate registration symbol (see below) or (b) all capitals.
    • Use the proper registration symbols (®, ™, or SM) with your marks.
      • Use the appropriate symbol with the first and most prominent use of each mark in all materials. The symbol should be placed above and to the right of the mark (i.e., set as superscript).
    • The symbols do not need to be used in headlines (although they should be used in the body of the text), nor when the mark is being used as a trade name (to refer to the organization).
    • Provide attribution. When using your marks, supporters should include a statement attributing the marks to your organization. For example:
    • “[Your marks] are either registered trademarks or trademarks of [your organization] in the United States and/or in other countries.”
  • Guidance Regarding Improper Use of Your Marks. Specify what supporters should not do when using your marks:
    • ​Use your marks as generic terms.
    • Remove, alter, distort, or modify your marks.
    • Use your marks as part of the supporter’s own trademarks.
    • Use your marks in the plural or possessive form or as verbs.
    • Use your marks on or in connection with goods or services not provided by your organization.
    • Use your marks in any way likely to cause confusion between your organization’s goods and services and those of another entity.
    • Use your marks in any way that inaccurately implies that your organization sponsors, endorses, or is otherwise affiliated with the supporter’s activities, products, or services.
    • Use your marks in any way that disparages your organization or its goods or services.
    • Use your marks on or in connection with goods or services that, in your judgment, may diminish your organization’s goodwill in the marks (e.g., uses that could be deemed obscene, pornographic, violent, or otherwise in poor taste).
    • Use your marks in connection with any unlawful activities or to encourage such activities.
  • Right of Review. Inform supporters that your organization (a) reserves the right to review all uses of your marks by others, (b) may require supporters to provide a copy of any materials bearing your marks, and (c) may require supporters to correct any deficiencies in the use of your marks.

Your guidelines will contain many rules, so you want to make sure you strike the right tone. Let your supporters know how much you appreciate them and their support, and ask them to help you even more by adhering to your trademark use guidelines.

An important point to remember is that the public needs to feel assured that its charitable donations are going to fund what the nonprofit organization says they are, or the organization could legally be at risk of deception. Improper use of a nonprofit’s marks where the legalities have not been put in place can bring into question the organization’s reputation and purpose.



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