The New York Times
By: Jenna Wortham
November 30, 2010
Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook and the chief digital organizer for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, knows a thing or two about building online communities.
Now he is applying his expertise to a new venture called Jumo, which aims to connect people with nonprofits and charitable organizations.
The site, which is being unveiled on Tuesday, aims to "do what Yelp did for restaurants," Mr. Hughes said, indexing charities "to help people find and evaluate them."
Individual charities, projects like building a school in rural Africa and broad issues like gay rights will all have dedicated pages on Jumo.
Relevant news articles, Twitter posts and YouTube videos will be added to the pages, and users can add their own feedback and comments. Users can also find their Facebook friends and follow their adopted projects and issues on the site.
The idea is to take the principles that helped Mr. Hughes organize a network of volunteers into a successful political force and apply them to a much broader universe of causes and issues.
Mr. Hughes is not the first entrepreneur to venture into this territory. Causes, a Facebook application, and the Web site Global Giving are among the many existing ways to find and support charities online.
But Mr. Hughes said Jumo would not be primarily about soliciting donations. Instead, he said, the site would first try to deepen ties between its users and their favorite causes.
"The more connected that individual is to an issue they care about, the higher probability there is they will stay involved over a longer period of time," Mr. Hughes said.
To start, the Jumo site was seeded with more than 3,000 issues and groups. But "anyone with a social mission can create a page," said Mr. Hughes, who thinks Jumo could become a simple way for smaller charities to establish a social media presence.
Jumo will allow only organizations that have been certified as tax exempt to solicit donations, as a way to discourage fraud.
Jumo is itself a nonprofit, and will rely on payments from users and sponsorships from organizations that want better promotion on the Web site.
One challenge for Jumo will be figuring out how willing are Internet users to share details about their donations, which they can choose to display on their Jumo profile pages, said Susan Etlinger, an analyst at the Altimeter Group, a consulting firm. "The same dynamics of other social networks may not transfer to this activity," she said.
But Chris Bishko, director of investments at Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm that contributed to the $3.5 million in grants that Jumo raised before its release, said that it was not such a long shot.
"One thing we've learned with Internet companies is that if you can lower the barrier and lower friction, then activity follows where it didn't exist before," he said. As an example, he pointed to the flood of donations via text message that followed the earthquake in Haiti last January: "We saw what people were willing to do."
Another issue for Jumo is social network burnout. Will people who are spending time on Facebook and elsewhere be willing to add another site to their lineup?
Mr. Hughes said Jumo was not intended to compete with Facebook.
Instead, he predicts that Facebook will become a ubiquitous backbone for the social Web, and that people will also use niche sites focused on specific interests and communities. Jumo will send out e-mails and updates tailored to its users to help them stay engaged, he said.
It is not yet clear how much the Internet and social media can help push people to move beyond just "following" and "liking" things, but a social network like Jumo could be a crucial first step, said Steve MacLaughlin, director of Internet solutions at BlackBaud, a global provider of technology and services to nonprofits.
"It's still not clear whether or not followers translate to volunteers and donors," said Mr. MacLaughlin. "But people that are more engaged with nonprofits are most likely to become a donor or support them in another way."
The financial impact could be tremendous, he said. Of the $300 billion that was donated to charities and nonprofits in 2009, only 6 percent was submitted online.