It's no secret that a brand with an established, trusted online presence is worth its digital weight in gold these days. Thanks to iPads, Droids and the like, more on-the-go consumers are logging on to learn about a company, brand or individual than ever before. Even the more "traditional" marketing tools -- whether a 30-second spot or magazine ad -- now typically tout a Web address (or at least a Facebook page). In other words, the "Internet trifecta" -- .com, .net or .org -- is everywhere we turn.
That's all about to change.
Until recently, companies and organizations had only a handful of domain extensions to choose from when it came to registering a website or establishing an online presence. But in January, the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, the global coordinator of the Internet, will begin accepting applications for new domain extensions (otherwise known as top-level domains, or TLDs). As a result, a countless variety of extensions -- such as .eco, .nyc and .ngo, -- will be introduced into our lexicon, expanding our surfing (and branding) options -- especially for organizations or corporate social responsibility programs looking to boost mission awareness and build larger donor bases.
For the past year, I've been overseeing the Public Interest Registry, a not-for-profit organization that manages and operates the .org domain. The core of PIR's mission since Day One has been simple: to provide an online space where people come together to make a difference. Our simplicity has bred efficacy, as the .org domain now boasts more than 9.5 million registrations, most of which are nonprofits, companies or individuals who view the .org domain as a safe, trusted venue to educate, mobilize and empower their communities.
Now, as the Internet evolves and introduces more online opportunities for all, PIR's mission likewise evolves.
In January, PIR will formally submit an application to create and manage the .ngo domain extension (yes, we will also continue to manage the .org domain). Our reasoning -- much like our mission with .org -- is straightforward. As the Internet gains entry into more and more markets, particularly the emerging markets and developing world, it's becoming critical that nongovernmental organizations have access to online branding with built-in trust and credibility -- especially in an age where donors are increasingly more pennywise.
Through PIR's work with and commitment to the nongovernmental community over the past eight years, we've found that these organizations worldwide very strongly identify with the three letters NGO. So much as the .org coda at the end of a Web address inherently certifies nonprofits and social responsibility programs, .ngo will provide an exclusive online signature for self-identified nongovernmental organizations worldwide -- one that will allow millions of organizations to broaden their audiences, strengthen their brands and make even stronger societal impacts.
That's not to say that .org will no longer be a safe haven for nonprofits and organizations. In fact, one reason PIR would like to create .ngo is so that it can serve as a complement to an existing .org site. Again, it all comes back to the concept of simplicity breeding efficacy: Providing two online venues that are both trusted and credible will enable and empower philanthropic communities of all sizes to further their online reach and embolden their brands.
At a time where potential donors and supporters are following a company's every move online and, in part, judging the online "cover," something as simple as a domain extension can be the deciding factor as to whether a nonprofit or NGO's targeted audience trusts or ignores the information. When you think about it, those three little letters -- whether it's .org or .ngo -- hold the potential to be the most powerful branding tool to date and determine an organization's ability to make a difference.