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May 31, 2012; Source: Mashable

If your nonprofit has a website, chances are it ends with the .org domain name extension, but that may soon be changing—if you so choose. The organization that manages the .org domain name extension, the Public Interest Registry (PIR), itself a nonprofit, has applied to the Internet’s governing body on domain names, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), for some new extensions. If their application is approved, nonprofits will be able to present their website with a .ngo extension (or a .ong extension, the Romance language version of NGO).

Why do these three letters matter? As Mashable’s Matt Petronzio explains, the .org extension is an “open domain, meaning that individuals and for-profit corporations can register under it as well.” However, the .ngo extension will be a “closed domain,” so nonprofits will have to prove that they are, in fact, nonprofits in order to use it. The .ngo domain, then, could provide online users, donors, or supporters with an extra sense of security—a validation that what one assumes is a charitable organization is indeed so. One potential benefit of switching might be inclusion in a directory of all .ngo sites that PIR will be creating. This could furnish nonprofits with something of a wide-ranging, built-in new digital peer community. In addition, PIR will use the money from .ngo registrations to invest in the nonprofit sector—for example, by helping developing world nonprofits to get online and set up websites.

A potential downside to making the switch is that a nonprofit might run the risk of losing some visitors from those who don’t think to update their Internet browsing patterns or bookmarks, but nonprofits should easily be able to avoid that dilemma by setting up redirects in advance of any domain name switch. So if the application is approved, should your nonprofit make the switch?

“It’s really [your] choice,” according to Public Interest Registry CEO Brian Cute. “If they have a .org site and they’re interacting robustly with their donors and their community, they may not want to. That’s fine. If they aren’t online yet, or they recognize that the benefit of a verified registration and website and .ngo gives them better positioning with their stakeholders, then it’s the right move.”

It may be that the majority will rule on this question. If most nonprofits that have their act together adopt .ngo extensions, those who stick with .org might eventually be seen as less trustworthy than their verified peers with .ngo extensions. On the other hand, if .ngo domain extensions become available and only a small portion of nonprofits make the move, it may all be much ado about nothing. Do you think your nonprofit’s .org site would be interested in becoming a .ngo? Let us know what you think. –Mike Keefe-Feldman