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Non-Profit Tech: Does the World Need Jumo?

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, December 1 2010

Jumo.com, Chris Hughes's new non-profit online organizing hub, got some celebratory press coverage yesterday in places like the New York Times and the Huffington Post (as well as a launch-day "here's this new thing" mention here on techPres). But the platform is getting thoroughly vetted by folks who work day-in-and-out in the non-profit tech space, and some tough questions are getting asked. With more than $3 million in pre-launch funding, why has the site been so tremendously buggy? Is it kosher for Jumo to include a tip for their coffers by default? And is there even a need for a new online gathering point for charities?

NPTech's Amy Sample Ward covers those questions and more in a post on her blog, and that discussion is attracting responses from host of people from the non-profit world. A taste of what non-profit tech folks are saying about Jumo after the jump.

Mobile Active's Katrin Verclas:

[A] few things: 500 server errors is pre-alpha, not beta. That is not excusable when that org has $3.5 million raised. Requiring FB is crazy - that should be optional. The default donation is likewise presumptuous and hard to opt out of. Lastly, I am with Tom Watson - what is the need for Jumo that is not already served by organizations such as Idealist, VolunteerMatch, and Change.org? Note that Chris went out his way NOT to talk to any of the three in his 'research" Overhyped, and underdelivering - and worse, not meeting a discernable need.

TechSoup's Daniel Ben-Horin:

When I first heard about Jumo quite a few months ago, I reacted basically as Tom Watson did, though more snarkily. Subsquently, a mutual friend brokered a call between Chris and me. He's obviously a smart guy and he's trying to do good in the world. I think it's important that we in the nonprofit tech space stay open to new ideas, projects, people in our space, and don't hold it against the the newbies that they are able to raise money easily or maybe haven't paid what we might consider the appropriate dues. There's no growth if we try to pull up the drawbridge behind us. That said, my feeling talking to Chris was that he was kind of checking off a box. I sensed he had received blowback for not having talked to enough NPO folks and was remedying that, but was very much in love with his concept, and wasn't really open to revisiting his paradigm. ...

But I think we should take a long view here. It is not foreordained that Jumo will 'sweep away the competition.' This is a different environment than the more or less purely social one of FB. With all his dough and pedigree, Chris and his team will still have to earn trust in order to succeed, and it's not clear to me how well they understand that or how they expect to address that need. 

CauseVox's Jefferson Chang:

I was very excited about the launch, but somewhat underwhelmed. Coming from a tech background I know the bumps in doing a launch and all the site slowness/bugs are understandable; people just have to be willing to see through that. 

For me, the issue is of value added. Like many others mentioned, there are already established sites for learning about and engaging in new issues (change.org, idealist), and while I applaud their efforts...in its current form, then world does not need another directory.

Best Friends Animal Society's Jon Dunn:

I have gone through, created our org, added in all the stuff....and it has auto-filled with GARBAGE. In fact, not just garbage, stuff like videos from youtube that have not only nothing to do with us, but are actually videos that hate on us and others in animal welfare. Yay!

First off, on this fundamental question of why the world might need another online hub for charitable work, it seems a funny one. The existence of MySpace and Friendster didn't obviate the need for Facebook. That do-gooding isn't baked into our online experiences -- and it's almost inarguable that it isn't -- seems to let us know that there's room for someone/thing/approach to optimize the field. And it's worth keeping in mind that the non-profit world can be an competitive, sometimes harsh place. You can read into some of the comments on Ward's post the professional pique of people who don't much appreciate the idea some technoutopian kid might just ride in and be proclaimed the savior of their space.

(Replace "non-profit world" with "presidential campaigns" in the above and you get a recognizable version of what the Democratic establishment had to say about that cheeky upstart, Barack Obama.)

That said, what Hughes seems to have going for him is that he has relatively deep experience in networking folks, what with his role in the launching of Facebook and his work on the Obama campaign's social networking platform. That experience gets him both attention and funding, both of which could go to solving the critical mass problem of how you attract enough people to service-type work. The holy grail in this space is how you create an environment in which advocacy organizations and efforts can create sustainable mutually-meaningful relationships with the people who support what they're doing. Doing that, though, would seem to require a website that stayed up and running, and one that people who work with non-profit organizations find usable.

More from Tom Watson.

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