SoHo is a long way from the stumping grounds of Iowa or Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago. "No politics!" laughs Chris Hughes, Obama’s former director of online organizing, as he politely ejects an employee dog from the office flop sofa. "No PACs, and no candidates. We’re a 501(c)3, so it’s illegal." Hughes’s current venture, Jumo, which launches in beta today, is still about connecting people with each other and the things they care about—but this time, it’s around the wider world of non-profits, NGOs, and issues. "We want as many people as possible engaged on the issues that are important without them being annoyed by them," he tells Fast Company. "I want people to be conscious and aware of what they can do that impacts the world."
Hughes has entered a crowded field of do-good sites wanting to tug your heartstrings and separate you from your cash. He walks through a list. "There’s Causecast, Causes, Razoo," he says, pulling up sites to compare and contrast. "There’s Firstgiving and Justgiving, and they’re all doing great things." He points to the cacophony of donate buttons and explains where he hopes Jumo will be different. "We’re trying to avoid the classic feeling that a lot of people have when they start talking to a non-profit or NGO," says Hughes. "It’s always, 'Oh, they want my money.' But we’re not going to start or end there." Instead, Hughes believes that Jumo can inspire engagement around issues and non-profits as naturally as Facebook does for kittens and kids, and Twitter does for Glee and Justin Bieber. "Yes, people can give to any 501(c)3 on this platform," he explains. But they can also comment, ask questions, post stories and just hang around them. Like friends do. The goal is to inspire good works through social discovery, trust, familiarity, and intimacy. "We are really more like a social news site," he says, with an emphasis on social. "We believe that sustained giving happens only after you get to know an organization."
Much of the Jumo experience feels familiar at first. Like Yelp, you don’t have to log in to see the issues and non-profits pages that are on the site. Visitors enter the site through a mild diagnostic that lets them choose the areas that they care about from a basic field of seven categories—arts/culture, education, human rights, etc. People can then select real projects and issues to learn more about. The site is built to work with Facebook Connect, so users will be able to immediately find and follow people they already know, and their own profiles will be instantly populated with a feed of news, activity, and chatter that is hopefully relevant to them.
The staff has seeded the site with some 3,500 non-profits and NGOs pages, so there is plenty to discover right away. "It becomes a bucket for all information that’s being produced by or about the organization, including links to everywhere they live on social media platforms." An algorithm drives relevant content up the feed chain, fueled in part by how many people are liking and commenting. And each non-profit has admin capability, similar to Facebook pages, so they can maintain some sense of control. "It won’t help you in a firestorm," laughs Hughes, "but it is your page."
Jumo plans to cover costs in two ways. They ask for an optional donation when someone does choose to use the platform to give money. But ultimately, Hughes hopes to build an outreach and sponsorship platform that sounds like it will function very much like advertising on Facebook. Target and ye shall find. "Most organizations are still spending a lot of money on direct mail fundraising," the only proven way to effectively tap a very specific demographic, says Hughes. "Unless they can afford a really sophisticated digital shop, they can’t afford to really target well online." Non-profits can expect a turnkey ad/sponsorship platform sometime next year. "We’ll see when," Hughes says.
The New York offices of Jumo are startup sparse—the company is currently a mere eight people—and the team comes from a mix of technology, non-profit, and media worlds. (The funders are equally diverse. Jumo has raised $3.5 million dollars, and counts the Ford Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and some high net-worth individuals—including "some of the early Facebook guys"—as their initial investors.) And it’s Hughes’s first time as a solo founder. "Really, every startup is different," he says. "The people are different, the technology is different, and the goal is different." But the exhaustion is the same. "Yeah," he said, sounding beat. "It’s still really, really fun."
I’ll be signing up today, and walking through the Jumo experience. Follow my thoughts on Twitter @ellmcgirt. I’ll also be following up with interviews with Jumo board member Susan McCue of Message Global, a communications and public affairs firm to advance progressive campaigns and nonprofits, and lead designer Brennan Moore.
[Top Image: Flickr user dsearls]