December 2019

.org URL changes could be costly

Blog Nonprofit

.org was among one of the first top-level domains started in 1985. The other original domains included .com, .net, .gov, .us and .mil. Each domain designation was originally devised for specific usage.

The .org URL was intended for non-profits and other noncommercial entities. As part of .org’s original mission, the owner of this URL, Public Interest Registry, the Reston nonprofit corporation was not allowed to charge more than $9.05 per year per use.

But like so many well-intentioned efforts, the .org designation never really lived up to its ideal. Due to lack of oversight and enforcement many commercial businesses began to use .org. Obviously this made it more difficult to be sure an organization you were dealing with online was truly a charity or just a business in sheep’s clothing.

But things have taken and even darker turn. A recent ruling by The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has removed the price cap of $9.05 annually and allowed the cost to use .org to be raised, as long as people using it were notified before the price increase.

There will soon be no limits on what can be charged for a .org URL.

This change makes ownership of .org control look much more attractive to investors — so attractive that a private equity firm named Ethos Capital was quick to buy the old holder of the domain, Public Interest Registry, and change them from a non-profit to for-profit company. This deal was probably a very smart billion-dollar-plus investment by Ethos.

The ownership change is scheduled to become effective the first quarter of 2020 and leaves the door wide open for Ethos to charge whatever they like. There’s a chance that many of the over 10 million non-profit, cause-focused groups and charities using .org may find themselves out-priced and out-of-luck when it comes to their online address. For non-profits, the potential loss of long-standing URLs may cause confusion in the marketplace and end up costing them support and donations.

Hopefully the smaller charities that can’t afford whatever Ethos Capital decides to charge for the use of .org have built their brand awareness sufficiently to minimize the potential damage this change may cause. This situation serves as a good reminder that a strong brand is every organization’s best hope to successfully weather unforeseen market forces.

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