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After Facebook and Obama, Chris Hughes launches nonprofit Jumo

Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder who helped launch the social networking phenom and then the tour-de-force online organizing campaign for Barack Obama’s presidential bid, on Thursday unveiled his latest endeavor: A website to connect individuals and organizations striving to help the world.

Hughes The site is called Jumo, which means “together in concert” in Yoruba, a West African language. It will officially open for business in September or October. He announced the new project on his blog and on Twitter.

Hughes, 26, who now lives in New York, wants to use the experience and knowledge he gained at Facebook and on the Obama campaign to “have maximum impact on the world.”

In an interview, Hughes said he arrived at the decision to form a nonprofit that would tap the power of the Internet to connect people and causes after a post-campaign year of traveling in Africa, Asia and Latin America and work as an entrepreneur-in-residence at a venture capital firm and at his old stomping grounds, Facebook.

“You learn pretty fast that there is no magic solution to poverty. There are not even a single set of solutions or strategies that are going to be the answer to all of these challenges,” he said. “Instead you have to support all the individuals and organizations working on the ground doing good, valuable work.”

The most effective way to give that support is to create a site that can match people, their skills and interests with the organizations who need them, Hughes said.

While working on Facebook and the Obama campaign, Hughes said he learned that if you make it easy for people to get involved, they will. The Obama campaign made political history by enlisting voters in droves on the Web.

“You can get a lot of people to give money if you show them a photo of a malnourished African child. That’s pretty similar to what we saw in the world of politics. Before the Obama campaign, the standard was to assume that people had short attention spans and that the message had to be that urgent action is needed,” Hughes said. “What we did with Obama is we took the leap of faith that people have longer attention spans and that if you really build a relationship with them and help them understand what the campaign is about, what the values are and why it is important for them to get involved, they will not only contribute once but over the long term.”

Hughes is banking that will be true when it comes to philanthropy. “I really want to move away from the old model in which you have to rely on people giving $10 after a humanitarian crisis to a newer model where people give money but also their time and their skills, whatever they have, to the causes that are personally meaningful to them well before the crisis moment presents itself,” he said.

Visitors to the Jumo site are asked to answer a list of questions designed to help them discover personally relevant opportunities to donate their time or money. Jumo has a staff of three (Kristen Titus, a nonprofit expert, and the Obama campaign’s former designer, Scott Thomas) and is looking to hire several more. Hughes is seeking $2.5 million in funding from individuals and foundations and he said he has already raised about a quarter of that amount.

“I fundamentally believe that people have a genuine desire to be positively engaged in the world around them,” he said. “I don’t think the online world has yet caught up with that desire.”

The Internet has spawned many efforts to help organizations solicit interest, volunteers and donations. Hughes’ generation is actively experimenting with how to use social networking for social good. Hughes’ friend Joe Green and veteran entrepreneur Sean Parker created Causes on Facebook, which helps raise money and awareness for nonprofits through the activity of millions of users. Causes has become a model for how the Internet can level the playing field for nonprofits that cannot afford expensive -- and often ineffective -- direct marketing campaigns.

"People are doing amazing things right now on the Web. They are all doing pieces of the puzzle," Hughes said. "I do think that they are still very focused on the very last step, that moment of action or donation. If you zoom out a little bit, you can build an information channel so people can have an ongoing relationship with issues and causes."

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Chris Hughes. Credit: Union Square Ventures

 
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