Should we have a new non-profit-only Internet domain?


I attended an interesting meeting last week, along with folks from a few other charities and non-profit-related organisations, to hear about the plans in place to introduce new Internet Top Level Domains (TLDs) to add to those you’ll already know – like .com, .org, etc – and in particular to discuss what benefit might come from introducing a new non-profit-only community TLD.

If you haven’t heard about this significant forthcoming change to the way Internet addressing works, don’t worry – you’re not alone. While it has been discussed for many years now, it is only relatively recently that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which co-ordinates the Internet’s naming and numbering system, announced a timeline for the use of new TLDs – with applications starting in 2010.

At present website addresses use a relatively small number of generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) – like .com, .net, and .org – or country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) – like or .fr. However, as from 2010 gTLDs could actually be any word or acronym you like. So, major brands could register brand-specific gTLDs like .nike or .coke. City gTLDs, like .London or .NYC, could be registered for tourist information, and specific industries could also register their own gTLDs – like .bank or .beer. All you’ll need to register your own such domain is a chunky $185,000 registration fee and then the funds to cover the annual running costs (suffice to say that at that price I won’t be launching .bry anytime soon).

What is potentially interesting from the non-profit point of view is that newly registered gTLDs don’t have to be ‘open’ like .com or – where anyone can register a site. It is quite possible to register a new gTLD with a specific set of criteria that must be met before anyone can register a site using it. Hence the main discussion last week, organised by Victoria Harris of Article 25 and supported by VeriSign, which focused on what benefits might be available from a non-profit-only ‘closed’ gTLD – perhaps .ngo – restricted to registered charities and other non-profit organisations and managed by a non-profit consortium. In effect how .org was originally envisaged before anyone was allowed to register a .org address whether or not they are a non-profit.

The idea behind such a closed non-profit-only gTLD is that, over time, consumers will come to recognise and trust this as being evidence that an organisation using it is a legitimate non-profit and not someone running an Internet scam. I must admit that I’d never thought much about fake charity online fraud before, but apparently this became an especially serious issue after the Asian Tsunami in 2004 when a wide range of online scammers posing as emergency relief charities took advantage of the outpouring of online support for the sufferers. More work is needed to get an accurate estimate of the scale of ongoing online charitable fraud, but VeriSign have estimated that it could be around £68m annually just in the UK and as more and more individual giving moves online this will only become a bigger issue for the international non-profit community.

There is much more discussion yet to be had, not least into just how any such closed community gTLD might be funded and managed, but as it progresses I’ll be sure to post updates to keep you informed. In the meantime, if you’ve got any thoughts on the pros or cons of such a proposal then do share them by adding a comment below.


13 thoughts on “Should we have a new non-profit-only Internet domain?

    1. Unfortunately, while .org was originally intended to be only for non-profit organisations, registration of .org addresses was never actually controlled – with the result being that anyone at all can actually register a .org address. Presumably, the fact that people think .org is used by non-profits is likely to actually lead it to being used by fake charity scammers – which is the issue the new gTLD is being proposed as a solution to.

      What is being suggested is a new ‘closed’ gTLD where only organisations approved as legitimate non-profits will be allowed to register addresses.

  1. Interesting thoughts, and I agree on the fact that the history of the .org domain is a sad one. There was so much potential there.

    I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about organizations registering multiple domain extensions for a redirect to the same site. We, for example, have registered .com in addition to .org. This is done many times for the sake of simplicity, preventing confusion, and driving more traffic.

    Do you think that, if there were a nonprofit-only domain (monitored), we should still be able to register other extensions? Would it still be a good strategy? What about those scammers and/or for-profits who could still take advantage of the same domain name with a .com extension?

    1. Good question Luise. You’re certainly not alone in registering several gTLDs and ccTLDs and redirecting them to your main site – I do the same with and .org. for this blog

      I’d imagine that if the idea of the new approved non-profits-only gTLD was to reduce online fraud then your main secure transaction site would need to be at that gTLD, but that you could still have addresses at other extensions pointing to it. Anyone without approval could not use the non-profit gTLD at all so could not redirect to it.

  2. I have scanned the text of the blog and noticed that Bryan only mentioned the name of the proposed TLD in the footer. It is “.ngo”. Way back in 2008 when the ICANN announcements first hit the general press about opening up the TLD space, I contacted .name founder Geir Rasmusson and Verisign about supporting a new TLD for the charitable sector to be called .ngo. The purpose was to ensure the new domain had a clear charitable/not for profit aim, and that it was run for the NGO sector and driven by the wishes of the NGO community. One raison d’etre of the new TLD was of course that it would become known for the increased security, as Bryan and Friendraiser mention. As I break into my best French there I can see that .non may not be a TLD name to go for. A bit negative 🙂

    1. Hi Vicky. Thanks for the background to your .ngo proposal. I did mention in the post above that .ngo is the suggested non-profit only gTLD – up in para 4. But it’ll be interesting to see what other ideas folks come-up with too – although, as you say, finding acronyms that work globally isn’t easy.

  3. .ngo is more popular in the States than the UK as a marker for charities.

    I would advocate only allowing e.g. Charity Commission regulated organisations to be included. However, this excludes a number of well known organisations (including London museums), not to mention thousands of tiny organisations that would like to get involved.

    Globally, England and Wales has different regulation to Ireland, US, Russia, etc etc. My guess would be that it would be opened up to so many different organisations that the original aim – to provided a trusted, closed signal – would be negated.

    Interesting debate – would be great if the solutions can be found.

    1. Fair point Jon, whoever manages such a non-profit only closed gTLD will need to define eligibility criteria that take into account the specific non-profit regulations defined in each country, worldwide – which will be a key part of the challenge

  4. A new top level domain will likely cause more confusion than less. Society and charities might be better served by reforming .org than offering a new top level domain. Somewhat parallel targeted extensions .museum and .coop have been around for several years but without any consumer identification. Thus, these extension offer no more level of increased trust. The proliferation of additional top level domains from the loosening ICANN rules will further lead to dilution of new extensions brand identification. In order to avoid the same pitfalls as other existing, but poorly adopted, extensions, I would carefully read their histories before investing any money into an .ngo effort.

    Even with a new dedicated extension, nonprofits holding the best .org names will be viewed as the established charities, while a new extension is likely to be viewed as second rate. This is similar to the .com space. Big, established companies hold the most identifiable .com names. Lesser companies settle for lesser qualities .com names or go to .net or the seldom used .biz.

  5. I’m sceptical about the need for a new .ngo gTLD for a number of reasons.

    1. The UK public is confused enough about what constitutes a charity (Eton College is, Amnesty and Greenpeace aren’t etc). How many people can tell you what an NGO is, or even what it stands for?

    2. Plenty of organisations in the UK that are NGOs would never think of referring to themselves that way. Those that do use the acronym tend to be overseas development agencies, which often need to differentiate themselves in the countries in which they operate as explicitly not an arm of government. To confuse things further, quite a few of these self-declaring NGOs describe themselves as INGOs – international NGOs.

    3. If .ngo were accepted, does that devalue an .org? I’d argue it would, because charities/nonprofits would have to educate their supporters that a .ngo site is regulated whereas an .org isn’t.

    4. If .ngo becomes a valuable and trusted suffix, and charities/nonprofits choose to move to it as their prime URL, would anyone care to estimate the cost of changing all the printed material that mentions the .org address on charities’ literature? To that add the URLs that appear as signs on shops, charity vehicles, buildings and so on.

    I lament the missed opportunities of .org but .ngo seems like a lot of effort to shut the stable door long after the horse has bolted, with the added possibility that it will just confuse the public further.

    1. I should have added a fifth reason for not choosing the .ngo option. The suffix .org is handy in that it works in English and French – “organisation” is conveniently spelled the same way in both languages.

      NGO does not work so well. In French it becomes ONG.

      While .org doesn’t translate into all languages, ticking off two major international languages is quite a strength for the suffix.

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