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

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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 .co.uk 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 .co.uk – 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.

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YouTube launches free in-video clickable ads for UK and US non-profit partners

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Last week YouTube launched a new feature called ‘Call to Action’ for Non-profit Partners, allowing them to place overlay ads linking direct to their own website on their YouTube videos – for free. The clickable ads can direct viewers to any webpage, such as a secure donation page – essentially making YouTube videos into online DRTV ads.

To test the new feature, last Sunday YouTube placed a video for charity:water on its homepage, complete with a clickable overlay encouraging viewers to donate to fund water wells – and generated a very impressive $10,000 in donations in one day. So it certainly seems to work!

Before you get too excited about the potential to upload your latest video, add an overlay, and sit back as the money just rolls-in, you need to bear in mind that the test video was on the YouTube homepage – which guaranteed it a whole load of traffic.

However, ‘Call to Action’ still represents an opportunity not to be missed for any non-profit with good quality video content looking to find a way to monetise their YouTube uploads. At least it does for US and UK non-profits – as I’m afraid that at present YouTube’s Non-profit Partner Programme is only available to organisations from those two countries. Although they are apparently intending to expand the programme.

So, if you’re a UK or US non-profit what’s stopping you? Click here to register as a Non-profit Partner and then all you need to do is go to ‘edit Video’ and complete the ‘Call to Action’ fields for your headline, promotional copy, and destination URL. If you’re feeling really adventurous you could even combine clickable overlays with YouTube’s ‘annotations’ functionality to develop interactive direct response ads.

And do leave a comment to let me know how you get on with it.

Discover Scholars – taking online education fundraising to a more personal level?

I just came across Discover Scholars when I was taking a look at the finalists in this year’s Open Web Awards, where they have been shortlisted in the Non-profit Causes category.

They’re an interesting non-profit organisation that awards scholarships to students across the US – but with all their funding coming from individual donors who use the Discover Scholars website to select the type of student they want to help with their education.

Donors can specify any combination of student characteristics, from home state or region and past academic achievement to what major the student wishes to take and their career interests. The student’s level of financial need is also assessed.  Then the organisation aims to match the donor with a student from the list of those who have applied for funding (see the video above for more information).

This transparent funding approach is very much in-line with the growing demand from donors for more understanding of exactly how their money is being used and the desire to feel closer to what they’re funding. Recognition of which has led to a growing range of nonprofits – like Global Giving and Donors Choose – using the web to let donors select the specific project they want to fund.

However, the difference here is the framing of the offer to the donor – introduced on the homepage with the line… “Wish there were a scholarship foundation that supported the students you would choose to support yourself? With Discover Scholars.org, now there is…” – which is very much focused on the individual being funded rather than a class of students or a study-related project,

The only other organisation I can think of that takes the funding transparency down to the individual level is micro-investment organisation Kiva. But Kiva and Discover Scholars are very different in the way they actually offer donor choice.

While Kiva really does link supporters directly with individual businesspeople, with Discover Scholars the donor actually only gets to specify the type of individual student they would like to support and the final selection is made by the organisation. According to the Discover Scholars FAQs, their original intention was to operate like a ‘Match.com’ for  education fundraising, but this wasn’t possible due to IRS rulings on tax-exempt donations. So, what we’re left with is a ‘semi-personal’ donor choice – which seems to me an unfortunate imposed compromise that doesn’t really deliver on the personal funding opportunity suggested on the homepage.

The organisation currently seems to be in start-up phase, as there are no details as far as I could see about the number of donors nor the number of students who have applied for funding. From the amount of detailed background available on the site the need for such funding has clearly been very well thought through by its founders. However, I fear that this could be a case of a great personalised core donor proposition being significantly weakened because of the need to change the way it is implemented and that this will seriously impact their ability to attract significant volumes of donors in the way other online fundraising startups have. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

US online giving up 52% in 2007

Last week, Ted Hart released his latest estimate of US online giving figures, showing overall online income to US nonprofits in 2007 as $10.44 billion – up 52% from 2006.

Accurately measuring online giving on a national level is clearly maddeningly difficult. However, this is the seventh annual estimate calculated by Hart, apparently based on “the review of hundreds of first hand reports of giving he receives from charities and review of third-party research projects completed during the time period” . So, assuming the methodology is consistent, this should at least provide a good basis for observing the overall growth trend.

By comparison, according to the Giving USA Foundation’s latest figures just released this Monday, overall US charitable giving in 2007 is estimated at $306.39 billion – up just 3.9% on 2006.

Looking beyond the US, Hart believes the US figures represent slightly more than 50% of world-wide online giving, which he estimates to have now passed $20 billion.

 

Which charity will be first to make use of YouTube Annotations interactivity?

Earlier this week YouTube released a new feature called ‘Annotations’ that allows you not only to annotate your uploaded video with captions, but also to create links within the video to other video clips or to your YouTube channel.

Easy captioning is a handy function, but it is the interactivity offered by the embedded links that makes this new feature particularly interesting. There are several simple demonstrations of what’s possible already on the site, including one involving the good old ‘pick a card trick’ shown above (which jumped from 300k to well over 2m views in a day – showing the level of interest in the feature) and a ‘find the shell’ game (keep going to the ‘hard’ video and just see where it leads you;-).

Interestingly, the annotations seem only work on YouTube and not when the videos are embedded elsewhere – which is unfortunate (and presumably why embedding on the ‘pick a card’ video has been ‘disabled by request’).

Ever since YouTube took-off I’ve had countless discussions about how best to use videos on the site to engage with consumers beyond simple viewings, comments and ratings- other than just including a URL for them to type into their browser. While still restricted to links within YouTube, this new feature does offer a new level of interaction which has the potential to be used in interesting ways by non-profits. For example as the basis for a personally guided, interactive video presentation of your work or support opportunities.

Thinking ahead, if links out of YouTube are added then the potential becomes even greater. Allen Stern at CentreNetworks suggests that external links could offer a new way for YouTube to monetize – through a small fee being paid to link products in videos to the product owner’s site or ecommerce sites.

Many non-profits are already making use of YouTube – so who will be the first to get into YouTube interactivity?

Causes App celebrates first birthday – but surely there is more potential for Facebook fundraising?

Last Saturday was an important anniversary in Social Networking terms, marking one year since Facebook launched Facebook Platform, the toolkit that enables the development of 3rd party Applications (Apps) that integrate directly with Facebook user data. The sudden explosion in Apps resulting from this was a significant driver of the site’s massive growth in popularity throughout 2007, and according to Facebook stats site Adonomics it has led to the release of almost 27,000 Apps to-date.

The same day was also the first anniversary of the biggest non-profit Facebook App, ‘Causes’ from Project Agape (now also available on MySpace).

A runaway success from launch in terms of installations, Project Agape marked the anniversary with the release of statistics on its first year’s activity. Apparently they now have a total of 12 million registered users (95,886 daily active users when I just checked) supporting over 80,000 US and Canadian non-profit organisations. Other countries are still being considered for inclusion, but in a post on the Causes discussion board earlier this month it was explained that “Supporting donations to UK-based charities is still a project we’re interested in, but we are strapped for resources and cannot provide a date”.

80,000 non-profits being represented on two of the world’s biggest Social Networking sites is undoubtedly great news, with the App clearly tapping into a widespread desire amongst site users to share their support for charitable causes.

However, when you look at the figures released in terms of hard cash it seems like Causes still has some way to go before it becomes a significant income generator for the organisations involved. Over the last 12 months, $2.5 million has been raised through Causes for 19,445 organisations – equating to an average of just $126 per organisation. No donations at all have been made to 75% of the 80,000 organisations being ‘supported’.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think Causes is a great initiative and I do understand when other commentators have observed that this is $2.5 million that these organisations would not have had otherwise. However, I wholeheartedly believe that supporter engagement on Social Networking sites has the potential to deliver massively more in fundraising terms than what currently appears to be the equivalent of an online small change collection tin.

Perhaps it’s simply that the Causes ‘Digital Badge’ approach to supporter engagement just doesn’t lend itself to generating higher levels of financial engagement? Is it just too easy to install the App and choose a few organisations to support by putting their badge on your profile and that’s it – job done?

By contrast, those Apps which extend the tried-and-tested sponsored challenge fundraising approach to Social Networking sites seem to better illustrate the real Community Fundraising potential of sites like Facebook. For example, Justgiving.com (which enables individuals to set-up fundraising pages in support of their sponsored activities) has seen significant uptake of its Facebook App (see their latest stats here) and identified Facebook as its second biggest referrer after Google – a trend confirmed by Hitwise UK.

Anyone else got any examples of where organisations are managing to raise significant amounts on Social Networking sites?

Insights, tips and tricks for online fundraising – it’s this week’s Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants

Welcome to this week’s Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, a weekly blog carnival drawing together some of the best nonprofit news, advice and resources on offer across the blogosphere.

Each week a different host blogger sets a topic for this carnival and other bloggers submit posts on that theme – with the best seven being highlighted on the host’s blog. This week it’s my turn to host and the topic I chose was ‘Insights, tips and tricks for online fundraising’.

So, without further ado, here are seven online fundraising insight, tip and trick posts for you…

1. Starting off with some tips on how to evaluate and utilise Website architecture and and design to boost online fundraising from Jim Killion and Amanda Wasson of is7.

2. Staying with website design, Katya shares some tips from the latest study by Donordigital on what makes a great donation page.

3. And still on websites, for anyone at the early stages of website planning Jason King has posted the handy presentation he gave at the Connecting Up conference in Brisbane on Planning your non-profit’s website.

4. The Care2 folks over at Frogloop have reported on a recent survey that suggests that ‘51% of donors are not at all interested in Social Networks. However, apparently around a third of donors are somewhat or very interested in keeping-up with nonprofits through Social Media – rising to 40% for high level donors. Handy insight for social network fundraisers.

5. In her Nonprofits blog, Joanne Fritz shares some tips derived from UNICEF’s use of social networking and video-sharing sites.

6. For email fundraisers, here are Ten tips from Network for Good to help prevent your emails being deleted.

7. Finally, over at onLine, Garth Moore examines the potential of the new generation of ad funded click-to-donate applications.

That’s it for this week. You can keep track of the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants as it travels around from site to site by subscribing to the Carnival feed.