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using a .org domain name for a nonprofit or school

We are often asked for help in choosing a domain for a nonprofit or school.

A Top Level Domain, or “TLD” is the ending of a url – what comes after the “Dot”. The most common TLD is .com, but there are many others (more than 1,000), including .org, .info and even .guitars, .church, .bingo and .beer. All TLDs come with guidelines, but the majority are available to anyone. Some TLDs are protected and reserved for specific entities, such as “.edu.” Registration of .edu domains is limited to accredited degree-granting institutions of higher learning. 

The management of domain names is controlled by an organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN was designed to keep the Internet decentralized and keep outside interests from taking over a global public service. 

Using .ORG domain for Nonprofit websites

If you have a nonprofit, or a school which is a nonprofit, you may consider or already have a .org domain name. The .org TLD, was one of the original domains established in 1985, and has been operated by the Public Interest Registry (PIR) since 2003. The domain was originally intended for non-profit entities, but this restriction was removed in August 2019. The domain is commonly used by schools, open-source projects, and communities, but is now available to FOR-profit entities as well, which can cause confusion. There are over 10.5 million .ORG domains in existence.

Recent developments, outlined in this Washington Post letter, resulted in the sale of the company charged with controlling .org domains for more than $1 Billion. This sale threatens the value of the public trust in .org domains for nonprofits. A group of interested parties have formed an organization to try to keep dot-org safe, secure and free of any motivation to profit off its users’ data or to upsell them pricy add-ons. This opinion piece in the New York Times calls on ICANN to help regulate the sale of .org domains, which are at risk of being exploited with the recent developments.

Using a fun new, unique TLD

You might consider using one of the relatively new TLDs, of the thousands available today. The reasons for choosing something fun, like “.academy,” “.school,” or “.play” include the opportunity to be unique and seem “cutting edge.” These TLDs also offer the opportunity to more accurately brand your domain name to communicate what your organization or business is about. Google says using a new TLD won’t hurt your search result performance, but it also won’t help.

It is important to carefully consider the value of using a fancy new TLD. While it may seem like a good option for your organization, there are also risks associated with this choice. Importantly, if you choose a new, more unique TLD, you should purchase the .com version as well, because a lot of people may still default to typing in .com. You can point the .com version to your unique TLD domain so that if someone types your name with “.com,” they will still find your website. For example, if a restaurant chooses a domain name with “fredsplace.pizza” but they do not own the “fredsplace.com” version, this could be a big problem. If the .com version is owned by someone else, people accidentally typing fredsplace.com when looking for their website or sending an email will find their competition or an unrelated business instead. 

It’s also worth noting that new TLDs are not perceived to be as trustworthy by many people, as shown in this study by Survey Monkey.  This may be due to a lack of exposure since these more unique TLDs are still fairly new. Internet users see .com, .org and .net every day, which makes those options seem more authentic and trustworthy. 

How to choose a domain name

Part of the domain selection process for your nonprofit or school includes selecting a TLD, which is an important consideration, but not the only thing to consider. Other things to keep in mind when choosing a domain name include:

Length

Make sure your name is not too long. It should be easy to type and short enough so that it doesn’t take up too much space on a business card.

Memorability & Brand Name

Your name should be easy to remember. If you mention your domain name at a cocktail party, will people remember it? Will someone know how to spell it if you say the name?

Relevance & Keywords

Your domain name should reflect the name of your nonprofit, school or should describe what you do. This may also mean that it includes a keyword that describes your type of business, for example, jakescoffee.com.

What to avoid when choosing a domain name

Dashes and Dots

Don’t choose a version of your website with a dash in it, especially if a non-dash version exists for another business. People will forget to use these characters when looking for your website.

Funky Spellings

Use traditional spellings to make it easier for people to remember and find your website.

How many domain names should you own?

Some people are addicted to purchasing domains! It can be fun to acquire domain names and dream of businesses and websites you might own or create. Buying multiple domains for your business can improve your online identity and protect your brand from the competition. Since a general TLD is typically around $15 a year, it is not a big investment to own a few or several domains. Some people collect domains in order to resell them for a big profit. 

After deciding what variations and extensions to add in your domain name portfolio, get all of them from a single registrar as this makes them easy to manage. We recommend hover.com because they offer domain privacy at no extra charge, their management interface is easy to use, and they don’t try to upsell other products.

Having a great domain name is an important part of having a successful website. Need help choosing or setting up a domain name for your school or nonprofit organization? Contact us today!

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