Charity organisations are hoping that a .NGO domain name could stop online charity scams in their tracks, and increase certainty for philanthropists, enabling them to donate more over websites.
So far this year, Consumer Affairs Victoria has received more than 565 reports of scams, including around 13 reports of charity scams, many of which were conducted online.
Not-for-profit organisations (NFPs) and non-government organisations (NGOs) are currently preparing to apply for their own "top-level" domain (gTLD) extension, .NGO, enabled by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' (ICANN) decision to expand the current 22 TLDs on the internet to include generic names.
If the entity that wins the management of that domain requires validation of NGO status before issuing an address, the .NGO extension will mean that not-for-profit organisations will be able to clearly differentiate themselves from profit organisations, helping them build trust with potential donors who are worried about falling victim to online scams.
This Friday, 13 April, the American-based Public Interest Registry (PIR) will be one of those putting in an application to run .NGO as a restricted gTLD. To aid with its application, it has liaised with the non-profit community to find out what is wanted from a domain, and what level of support there is for it.
One supporter for a closed domain that can only be used by legitimate NGOs is FareShare, an NGO organisation that uses food, donated by businesses, that would otherwise be thrown out, and turns it into meals to give to Victoria's homeless.
Online donations play a major role in FareShare's success. "We currently have a campaign on our website highlighting that for every $10 donated, we will provide 20 meals. The speed and efficiency of online giving means that it is an option often chosen by our supporters, and we would like to make this as easy and secure for them as possible," FareShare CEO Marcus Godinho said.
"The .NGO domain will make it even easier for people to know that our website is authentic and the legitimate online place for our organisation. Any website ending in .NGO will be given an instant boost of credibility," Godinho said.
Tina Paterson, director of the Online Giving Foundation, which promotes best-practice fundraising, said that although the .org.au domain name is restricted to NGOs in Australia, this is not the case globally with .org.
"Creating .NGO will give charities instant branding online globally as a NFP organisation. This will enable potential donors, grant makers and strategic partners to immediately know they are dealing with an organisation from the charitable sector. In turn, this should contribute to a continued increase in online donations that we've been seeing over the past few years," Paterson said.
Paterson pointed out that that the new .NGO domain would not benefit all charities equally, arguing that larger, well-known charities that operate in Australia may not need the same level of backing of the .NGO brand. But she says that the benefits to the industry as a whole would outweigh the concerns of the minority.
"We believe online giving is one of the most cost-effective ways for people to donate and fundraise for charity, and our results over the past six years support this. These days, people are crowdsourcing to make a difference; individuals are raising money for charities online via personalised fundraising pages, often without the charities knowing them, and it's now big business in Australia," Paterson said.
PIR is currently seeking the support of Australian non-profits in its public campaign, saying that it would "work with the NGO community to establish the most appropriate mechanisms to certify NGO registrants".
Earlier this year, PIR's campaign was challenged by Dr Victoria Harris, the founder of UK charity Article 25, according to Pro Bono Australia. But Harris has since withdrawn her support from Article 25, and is now backing PIR's application.
Pro Bono Australia reported that the investment fund Domain Venture Partners will also be making a commercial bid for the sought-after domain name. The deadline for gTLD applications is 13 April 2012. New gTLDs will be released in 2013.