Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

The Nonprofit Community is about to lose $90+ Million Dollars a Year.

Jacob Malthouse
Nov 15, 2019 · 4 min read

We are about to lose a global symbol of nonprofit values. The .org domain has just been sold to a private equity firm — Ethos Partners — by the non-profit Internet Society (ISOC). The sale occurred shortly after ICANN removed .org price caps. Given the scale of this transaction, the links between Ethos, the domain industry, .org and their impacts on the nonprofit community are deep and worth exploring.

TLDR? Here’s a podcast explainer.

Ethos is run by Erik Brooks, who started it this year after spending 20 years at private equity firm Abry Partners. Abry is a key investor in Donuts Inc., a leading domain name company. Donuts raised over a $100 million in 2012 to apply for over 300 top-level domains. The Abry investment was led by Brooks.

Photo by Nicolas Picard on Unsplash

Former ICANN CEO — Fadi Chehadé is reported to be involved with Ethos and is also a Senior Advisor to Abry. Akram Atallah, a former ICANN COO who was hired by Chehadé, is now CEO at Donuts, according to his Linkedin Profile.

The current CEO of .org is Co-founder and former general counsel at Donuts. During his tenure Donuts fought the environmental movement for years, including with arbitration to stop them from running .eco as a progressive community domain.

Neither Donuts nor Abry have a good track record of fighting for community interests. In fact, they have a good track record of undermining them. Now, many of these same people are in charge of the .org domain.

To give you an idea of scale, the .org annual report puts their revenues at $90 million, but there are now no restrictions on doubling that fee. Domain name wire claims that the .org domain could bring in as much as $180 million dollars a year.

How much of that will now be suctioned into private equity coffers out of the nonprofit community into private coffers? What could the progressive movement do with between $90 and $180 million dollars a year? That’s an annuity worth over half a billion dollars. To put it in context that’s a loss of somewhere between annual revenues of the Nature Conservancy or the American Cancer Society.

ISOC says the new .org will be a B Corp. Being a B Corp does provide additional accountability. But .org had been marketed as a nonprofit tool for decades. It is incongruous to now try to pass it off as legitimate because it adopts a corporate social reporting standard.

By comparison, the largest nonprofit CRM in the world — CiviCRM — is a not-for-profit. How would the nonprofit community react if it was suddenly purchased by a private equity firm?

This is a very sad day for the progressive movement. We need infrastructure like this and we need it to stay run by and for nonprofits, where it can be managed in a transparent and accountable fashion.

Sadly, we have no one to blame but ourselves. ISOC, ICANN and The Public Interest Registry (.org’s corporate name) are all multi-stakeholder organizations involved and engaged in Internet Governance. They are open to participation and engagement.

Global Internet governance directly impacts the progressive and climate movements in multiple ways. Decisions on privacy, security, abuse, intellectual property, community rights, connectivity, disinformation, and cyber-attacks are all made by these Internet governance organizations.

Yet we remain fixated on Google and Facebook. This is the same thing as lobbying Ford Motor Company to stop making SUVs instead of lobbying the government to increase fuel efficiency requirements.

Even though they are open to participation, in my nearly two decades working in the field of Internet Governance I have never seen a single major nonprofit mount a concentrated and dedicated campaign to hold institutions like ICANN, ISOC and .ORG accountable to their mission and values.

When we are silent, we cede influence. Unfortunately, the cost of that silence can be as real as the loss of the Internet’s most significant nonprofit infrastructure.

We can do better. The millions of nonprofits who rely on .org deserve better.

Can we count on you to help stop the sale of Public Interest Registry to a Private Equity Firm?

Yes! I will sign a letter to help stop the .ORG sale. Count me in!

Go deeper:

Why all of Internet Society’s reasons for selling .ORG are wrong.

On the fence? Don’t be! Here’ why.


Musings on Saving .ORG — My (Jacob’s) views alone.

Jacob Malthouse

Written by

I love to explore connections between technology, society and planet.


Musings on Saving .ORG — My (Jacob’s) views alone.

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