Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dot Org doesn't mean nonprofit

One of the suggestions I make so often that it should be a recorded message is that nonprofits need to provide substantiation of their status on their website home page. Here's a good reason why that is going to result in more donations.

Recently a friend asked me to research a charity. She had gone to their website, where everything suggested it was a nonprofit. It had a dot org DNS address, nice home page, well crafted mission statement, heartfelt stories of people they helped, donation button, in short, all the things you would expect on a nonprofit website. On the "about us" page however, there was some wording that disturbed me. It was subtle, and I don't think it would have set off alarm bells for most people.

I checked with all the usual verification sites, including the IRS. No listings. I checked social media. Nice page, but none referenced their NPO status specifically. Then I did a press release search, and there they were, back in 2008. "Local entrepreneurial group (name here) opens OJT training and placement firm".

This "dot org" is a business, plain and simple. Is it misrepresenting itself as a charity? It sure looks that way. Just for kicks, I clicked on the donate button, and there it was…"donations are not tax deductible" in little tiny print. It didn't specifically say that they are a business. They were relying on that "dot org" and the slick website to plant the suggestion that they are a charity. I also sent an email requesting a copy of their nonprofit paperwork, either Federal or state, but I never got a reply.

If you are putting up or revising a website, and you are a real nonprofit, I strongly suggest that you provide a link to a copy of your determination letter, or at least the date you got the letter on your site. Even if you are only a state-registered nonprofit corporation, don't make prospective supporters spend an hour or more trying to verify your status. They won't. They will just leave.

The dot org designation used to be more or less reserved for nonprofits, but that is no longer true. Schools, churches, some clubs, cities and really just about anyone can use that domain designation. I have seen some suggestions that nonprofits should have a DNS registry of their own, but so far it hasn't happened. Wikipedia states that the number of dot org registrations jumped from one million or so in the 1990's to over ten million as of June 2012. Could some of those be fraudulent charities?  Ab-so-lutely!

You should be proud enough of your nonprofit to provide irrefutable proof up front of your status. My friend is really into the cause this phony nonprofit supposedly supports. She would support a legitimate group well. But I can guarantee that she isn't going to support this one, and she'll be a lot more discerning about believing a website again, based solely on their URL and a donate button.  She is also reporting them to her state attorney general's office. 

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