Nonprofits: Guard Your Domains

Posted by Robin on Apr 23rd, 2010

Here’s a question for all you non-profit folks out there: what’s one mistake that can confuse the people you serve, turn off donors, call your reputation into question, and put money in the pockets of unscrupulous spammers?

Here’s the answer: Failing to protect your domain name—and therefore, your brand, your online footprint, and the interests of anyone who is seeking you out for legitimate reasons. Your domain will always be at the core of your content strategy, even if your organization goes defunct.

Let’s look at an example. This is based directly on something that I ran across while I was trying to make a charitable donation, although I have used a purely hypothetical domain name, organization, and organizational mission here.

Say you have an organization that provides job training services to low-income youth in, oh, how about Atlanta, or any other major metro area. Your domain name is You’ve been around for decades, and you built yourself a nice little website back in 1997. You updated it a few times and you had lots of great, useful information for the people you served, your potential donors, the media, and anyone else who might happen along. You were part of a tight little community of organizations, and your fellow Atlanta nonprofits linked to you happily, providing referrals to those who might need your services. Your name pops up at #1 in Google for “Atlanta job training” and at #9 for “Atlanta jobs.” Not bad.

In 2006, you merged with a larger organization that provided similar services. They already had a website, and it was shinier that yours. You let your domain name lapse in 2009, having forgotten about it entirely.


Someone else takes over your old domain name, with its juicy local job-related keywords, and makes a killing filling it with spammy ads, while you don’t see a dime. Your domain name still has years of credibility built up, with keyword links from other trustworthy nonprofit sites. People who might otherwise have found your new online home end up hopelessly confused, and donors who used to give years ago aren’t sure where to find you now, which is too bad because that’s a chunk of change with your name on it.

Just be glad your old domain is now selling jobs and not something much sketchier.

The takeaway:

Hold onto your domain in perpetuity. Don’t forget that it’s an asset. It helps people find you. If you merge with a larger organization, include a pointer or redirect to your new site but do not abandon your old one completely. If you fold and must give up your domain, donate or sell it to an organization that serves a similar cause, and be sure that they are educated about the value that your domain name can bring them.

If you have a nonprofit site that’s been around a while, check your links out, and update them as necessary. It’s easy to use automated tools to find broken links, but you also need to hand-check for situations like this, where the domain still exists but has changed drastically.

Never forget: domains are the real estate of the Internet. Don’t let the land that you have worked so hard to cultivate become a weed-choked vacant lot or a slumlord haven.

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