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Sunday, 12 April 2015 22:00

Ensuring Confidence: New NGO Internet suffix ignites conversation about donor trust among nonprofits

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While it may not keep Marcie Hillary up at night, the vice president of community relations for Hospice of Michigan was recently reminded how other, less well-intentioned organizations can infringe on the reputation and good name of many local nonprofits.

The situation wasn’t all that uncommon: One of Hillary’s volunteers received a mailing from an organization that went by the name National Hospice Foundation.

“It was personalized to that individual and everything — it looked like something that could have been from Hospice of Michigan,” Hillary said.

The volunteer was savvy enough to report the mailer to Hillary and her staff. A little digging revealed that this organization has been operating throughout the United States, soliciting donations in the name of hospice care. Even more concerning was the fact that the organization devoted 90 percent of its donations to those solicitation efforts, and 10 percent actually went toward the cause.

“The good news is, I actually don’t see this sort of thing that often,” said Hillary, who has been involved with Hospice of Michigan for 18 years, four of which were spent in her current role.

“We’ve had it come up a couple times. I think people can play on it — hospice is an emotional time and I think a lot of people can play on that (to solicit donations). I won’t say it’s something that keeps me up at night, though.”

A NEW LAYER OF WEB SECURITY

For worldwide organizations looking to establish credibility in their online presence, they now have a new tool in their arsenal.

The Public Interest Registry (PIR), a Virginia-based organization that operates the .org internet domain, recently opened up a sunrise period for non-governmental organizations to register for .ngo or .ong domain names. (The .ong suffix refers to the French translation of the term for NGOs, “organisation non gouvernementale.”)

Organizations must first submit an expression of interest for a domain and a limited registration period will be held April 21 to May 5.

The domain differs from the .org suffix, which anyone can register for, including individuals, nonprofits and corporations. Instead, the .ngo domain suffix will only be granted to organizations that meet strict criteria and an extensive vetting process.

When donors of fellow NGOs come across the .ngo domain, they can have peace of mind knowing that the credibility and trustworthiness of the organization has already been validated. Additionally, .ngo subscribers are added to PIR’s OnGood network of organizations, which helps promote visibility and lends tools for soliciting donations.

[RELATED: The risks of suitcase NGOs]

“The service is actually designed for all different NGOs, from the big ones to the smaller ones — the grassroots organizations, as you would call it,” said Tony Connor, director of marketing for PIR. “It comes with different features, (but) the biggest differentiation (from .org) is that validation.”

Connor said that PIR has received tens of thousands of expressions of interest from organizations from around the world.

In a technological age where more and more giving is being done online, the efforts of the PIR appear merited. For Hospice of Michigan, Hillary said that around 10 percent of giving is done online, which is significant, especially considering that the organization tends to attract older donors.

Online giving can be a double-edged sword: It’s convenient for donors but organizations must establish their credibility in the Wild West of the World Wide Web.

“The things that we can control, we do monitor,” Hillary said. “We have a lot of layers of security. We’re constantly working with our I.T. department, too.”

CULTIVATING TRUST

Having recognizable Internet domains and a secure online presence with a giving portal are just small components to the overarching concept of building trust with donors. The process starts long before all that and is the lifeblood of many organizations, sources said.

“Our donors’ trust means everything to us,” Hillary said. “Not just me, but our board members and our staff work to protect our reputation fiercely. We know that without (donor) support, we wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing.”

For Coby Chalmers, donor relations officer at Kalamazoo Community Foundation, trust among donors is achieved primarily through communication. This cycle of communication starts by discussing with the donors what they would like to accomplish with their money and also allowing them to see the fruits of their labor.

“Communication is key and it’s also important to circle back to the donor and let them know the impact that their donation has made,” Chalmers said.

“A donor may have a fund and make grants out to six organizations. We can’t necessarily give them a specific story about a single child being impacted by (each grant), but we can come back and show them that they supported this project or that project, and what the results were.”

Still, trust is not something that can necessarily be manufactured. Both Chalmers and Hillary agreed that longevity plays a huge role in establishing credibility and trust. Longevity is certainly something that Chalmers and the Kalamazoo Community Foundation have working in their favor. The foundation has been in operation for the last 90 years.

The foundation’s strong track record is something that it capitalizes on and accentuates to further build trust, Chalmers said.

“(When visitors come to our website), they’ll see stories illustrating the impact that we’ve made,” Chalmers said. “We recently celebrated our 90th birthday, so we’ve been doing this a long time and have quite a track record and great reputation, both in Kalamazoo and really throughout the country.”

Both Chalmers and Hillary have witnessed trends in giving that display the power of donor trust. Many donors will make an initial investment to test the waters, which gives way for the organization to access bigger gifts if they prove to be effective.

“I’ve been here for 18 years, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but I still always am,” Hillary said. “We will get an estate gift from a donor whose last gift was 15 years ago and for $50. The estate gift will be $50,000 or $100,000. It happens every year, without fail.”

Read 3787 times Last modified on Monday, 13 April 2015 12:11
Jayson Bussa

Staff writer/Web editor

[email protected]

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