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Navigating Technology For Nonprofits: Domains

The not for profit sector can and often does have a high turnover rate and as such, intellectual property assets get lost or become unaccounted for. Knowing where critical IP assets are is important. One of the most important ones is your domain. Knowing registrar credentials and managing ownership is one of the first things I strongly suggest organizations get a handle on. The longer you have your domain, the more valuable it is to squatters. If you garner more than 3000 visitors a year to your website, your URL is generally considered valuable and will get targeted in the event of expiry. Losing your domain will not only bring your website down, it will also stop the flow of your email. If someone else picks up your domain if you’ve allowed it to lapse, you’ll have to negotiate to retrieve it - and that can often take a lot of time and money.

Famous example of a costly domain expiry:

The Dallas Cowboys forgot to renew their domain name in 2010 during a major news brief where they fired their head coach. The domain name that was purchased just years earlier expired and the website were replaced by the image of two boys playing soccer and contact information for an opportunity to purchase the domain name. The organization had to pay out the registrar of the domain name and the website was down for several days. The rumoured cost to retrieve the domain for Jerry Jones, was about $250,000 USD.

As a first step, determine where your domain is currently residing. It would be registered with a domain name registrar  - a company that manages the reservation of Internet domain names. If you have an active website and if your email is flowing, then your organization’s domain is registered somewhere. Taking stock of where that is an essential first step. Knowing where it is and who controls it will ensure it doesn’t expire. If you can’t find it, there are ways to determine where it is. You can look up your domain’s identifier, or“whois”, using tools like:

http://whois.domaintools.com/

Assuming you don’t have control of your domain, you’ll need to communicate with who does. Domain names have registration records attached to them, they are called "whois records". Those records are broken up into sections:

  • The Organizational Contact
  • The Administrative Contact
  • The Technical Contact
  • The Billing Contact
  • Domain Creation, Modification & Expiry Dates
  • Nameserver Delegation
  • Domain Status

Whoever manages this domain will be listed as the administrative contact at the very least. This is a starting point to contacting the individual and facilitating something called a domain transfer if you need to. Transferring a domain name means changing the registrar with which your domain name is registered. An easy way to approach this, if you don’t control the domain, is to register to the identical registrar that the owner uses. Doing this only requires a domain move since you’d both be using the same registrar.

If you want to use a different registrar - you can. Use a Canadian registrar if you’re a Canadian organization. Rebel.com is a good one. They’re based in Ottawa and are closely affiliated with the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). They offer a comprehensive overview of how to initiate and accept a domain transfer here:

https://support.rebel.com/hc/en-us/articles/227668327-How-do-I-transfer-my-domain-to-another-registrar-

The important thing you need to know is this: The organizational, administrative, technical, and billing contacts should ALWAYS be your organization. It should be a member of the executive in your organization, such as your ED. It should not be the web developer than you contracted or an old employee or consultant. Having control over these credentials is important. I strongly recommend undertaking an immediate inventory of your domain portfolio and ensuring the contact details are in place correctly. 

Most domain registrars also include options like expiry protection, which is something I recommend. Register the  dot ca and the dot com - as well as any other variations of your organization name if you can.

Do you have technology related questions? We can help. Contact us for a free IT assessment with Chris Saracino, our Senior Technology consultant.