May 22, 2014; Pro Bono Australia

Public Interest Registry, the American domain regulator responsible for the top-level .org domain suffix, is offering Australian nonprofits the chance to switch to an .ngo or .ong domain in October. (The latter is for use in regions where Romance languages are prevalent.) Currently, many Australian nonprofits use the suffix .org.au, which is administered by the same regulator.

In addition to the distinctive .ngo, users will be listed in Public Interest Registry’s global NGO directory, and have access to a robust community portal. Via the portal, charities can customize profile pages, showcase their activities, and collect donations. Public Interest Registry is saying this will revolutionize the way that NGOs around the world connect with each other, with new partners, and potentially with donors as well. Although the portal will not take commission on donations, at this point it will be the e-commerce vehicle for donors

Megan Soffer, a marketing expert at Public Interest Registry who was quoted in the Australian online magazine for nonprofits Third Sector, said, “The NGO Portal will be a directory for NGOs. When donors are looking to give online, they want reassurance that both the website and cause are legitimate—this will be the easiest way for NGOs to communicate and demonstrate trust and credibility.” The ability to purchase premium domains like water.ngo and charity.ngo could also give an edge over competitors.

Richenda Vermeulen, the director of ntegr!ty, a Melbourne-based digital agency, suggests in Pro Bono Australia that Australian nonprofits “start the conversation about .ngo and have a plan before the .ngo domain names are available from local domain providers in October.”

Eligibility for obtaining an .ngo domain is based on seven criteria set by the Registry:

  1. Focused on acting in the public interest. Whether in support of education or health, the environment or human rights, members of the .ngo community work for the good of humankind and/or the preservation of the planet and do not promote discrimination or bigotry.
  2. Non-profitmaking/nonprofit-focused entities. While many NGOs engage in commercial activities or generate revenue in support of their missions, members of the .ngo community do not recognize profits or retain earnings.
  3. Limited government influence. Recognizing that many NGOs have important interactions with government, not least for reasons of funding (which may include receipt of some government funding in support of their programs), members of the .ngo community decide their own policies, direct their own activities and are independent of direct government or political control.
  4. Independent actors. Members of the .ngo community should not be political parties nor should be a part of any government. Participation in the work of an .ngo is voluntary.
  5. Active organizations. Members of the .ngo community are actively pursuing their missions on a regular basis.
  6. Structured. Members of the .ngo community, whether large or small, operate in a structured manner (e.g., under bylaws, codes of conduct, organizational standards, or other governance structures.)
  7. Lawful. Members of the .ngo community act with integrity within the bounds of law.

It remains to be seen how many Australian nonprofits will react. NGO is an acronym usually reserved in the Australian vernacular for large multinational nonprofits or nonprofits operating overseas. Will the benefits of an exclusive portal and registry be sufficient to persuade nonprofits that do not consider themselves NGOs to abandon their already distinctive .org.au domains?—John Godfrey