Jumo Grabs the Hype, But What’s the Value?

You have to admire the ideals of Chris Hughes, the young co-founder of Facebook and one of the key strategists behind President Obama’s successful 2008 campaign online. Hughes is the founder of Jumo, a new online community that aims to connect people with causes and nonprofit organizations. “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,” Hughes told The New York Times today.

And he’s right. Deep connections matter, and they grow more valuable over time.

But the tougher question for Jumo – which was much-publicized in cause-related precincts today – is how it differs from the online cause platforms that have plugging away for years at building those connections. In fact, much of what Jumo seems poised to offer (once it shakes off a rocky launch it seemed ill-prepared for) is already out there in the form of more-tested platforms like Change.org and GlobalGiving.

Part of the problem is the overall concept of the “curious donor” – a species that many believe in, but that has yet to be seen much of in the wild. Jumo is hardly the first start-up to begin life believing that people wake up in the morning wondering how to give their money away, searching relentlessly for that cause they can connect with. It rarely happens that way, of course. Most people give because someone asks them to. Most people involved because of a personal connection. Search isn’t the promise of online philanthropy, and never has been. Social – to put it bluntly – is. Finding good nonprofits is easy. Becoming deeply involved in a cause is harder.

Frankly, I think that two older online organizations – GlobalGiving and Change.org – have done yeoman’s work in exploring these connections, and connecting them via social networks and smart story-telling. In more targeted ways, sites like Kiva and DonorsChoose have also begun to crack that code. The point is, it takes years to do it. If I’ve learned one thing in the online social activism and cause space, it’s that wide overnight successes and broad adoption are more than rare. Jumo may well be a player, and I hope it is, but (in my view) it’s going to take years. As Beth Kanter says, “the challenge will be how to cultivate relationships to bring people up that ladder to higher levels of engagement and involvement.”

Amy Ward documented a bunch of structural challenges Jumo faces, some related to its launch and its design. But I thought her most telling comment centered on how hard the nascent Jumo makes it to connect with friends and colleagues (even though the service requires Facebook as a log-in):

The reason a site for finding and following causes you care about has social features is because it isn’t just the organizations we care about that we like to follow, but also the people we care about. If a friend or family member donates to an organization, starts or shepherds a campaign, or shares an appeal for support, data has shown that we are more likely to listen and even take action – we trust our friends and family and listen to what they say more than just ads or mass-messages. So, finding and following the people we want to listen to should certainly be easier in Jumo!

I do agree with what Steve MacLaughlin of Blackbaud told the Times (indeed, it was the basis of the optimism in my book CauseWired two years ago):

“It’s still not clear whether or not followers translate to volunteers and donors … But people that are more engaged with nonprofits are most likely to become a donor or support them in another way.”

Like Brian Reich, and Nancy Scola I signed up for Jumo’s email list weeks ago, but had to hear about the launch from the Times.)