Best Practices: .org and why Your For-Profit Organization Shouldn’t Use It

This morning I spent four hours on the telephone trying to find services for someone I love. Since we are in the preliminary stages of finding these services I emailed some friends, took their recommendations and then looked up the websites of the facilities and starting calling.

You can tell a lot from a phone call. When you’re a patient, a child, an advocate or a friend needing service the receptionist at the agency you are calling is your first introduction to a facility. Granted, first impressions can be wrong, but when I’m looking to begin a long term relationship with a business I’m going to be calling them with some regularity. Phone calls should be pleasant.

Websites can be an equally important as a first impression. Every part of your site matters. Take, for instance, the domain name. When I see a .com or a .net domain I assume that I’m on a business’ web page. When I see a .gov I know it’s a government page, and when I see .edu I know it’s a school. When we see .org we used to know that we were looking at a non profit organization.

Gone are the days when domainers had to write essays to explain why they needed to own a .org. A few short years ago in order to own a .org website the potential owner would have provided proof of non-profit status. A few years before that an essay was required to own any site.

Clearly essay writing and domain ownership are no longer a duo, but best practices dictate that only not for profit would host their site at a .org address. In order to protect a brand I can imagine a company owning a .org domain and then redirecting the traffic to their .com or .net, but hosting their for profit business on a .org platform would only confuse potential clients and alienate them once they figured out that they’d been snookered.

 

A web based economy uses trust as it’s currency. Once you’ve been deemed untrustworthy it’s nearly impossible to regain that trust. If your URL is dishonest, or just less than forthright there’s no reason for anyone to trust your content.

Although it’s possible for your business to buy and maintain any URL you can get your hands on, fight the urge to be anything less than transparent, because the web based consumer is a bright consumer and they have a lot of choices.

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12 Comments

  1. YES. I assume people are either naive, just plain dumb, or being deliberately deceptive when I run into for-profits on .org extensions. None of those things are confidence-inspiring or make me want to continue doing business with them.

  2. Anonymous

    Good post! Do you have 2-1-1 out there? This is great for trying to find services for loved ones or for yourself.

  3.  Thank you for this. Gave me the extra kick to buy a .com for a site I’ve been intending to for over a year. It was originally planned as NGO, but grew in a way I didn’t intend. No excuse, but you made buying a .com for it go a bit higher on my to-do-list. 

  4. Carmen

    Thanks for this post. We are a charitable organization that decorates and distributes holiday trees to seniors, but we have not filed for non-profit 501(c) status because we are still grassroots and don’t want to deal with having a board of directors. So we’re technically not non-profit, but we’re not really for profit either, since we not only do not make money, we spend it on buying trees and decorations. Do you feel it is misleading if we use a .org? (We’d prefer to use a .com, but our name’s already taken in the .com.) I trust your judgment, so I would appreciate your thoughts.

    • I’m not sure what I’d do. Certainly I’d own both .com and .org but you could redirect the .org to your .com or .net.

      It’s not *wrong* to use that .org if you aren’t 501(c) but I think that it’s not right either. If you’re second guessing it perhaps that’s because you don’t think it’s quite right?

      • Carmen

        Thank you for your quick reply, Jessica! Boy, I wish the .com was available and that would take care of everything. Actually, I was going to get the .org because I had no idea that .org was only for 501c organizations. Only after researching it on blogs like yours did I find out that it was ethically wrong to do so. Surprise to me! Maybe what we’ll do is use .net since the .com isn’t available, and buy the .org anyway just in case we do file that paperwork in the future. Thanks! Have a great day!

    • I’m not sure what I’d do. Certainly I’d own both .com and .org but you could redirect the .org to your .com or .net.

      It’s not *wrong* to use that .org if you aren’t 501(c) but I think that it’s not right either. If you’re second guessing it perhaps that’s because you don’t think it’s quite right?

  5. cj

    .org has been unrestricted since 1985. Where did you get your information about writing an essay or be a true non-profit to register a .org?

  6. bd

    This is not best practice. This is your opinion.

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