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Non-Profit Jumo Networks Its Way Into to GOOD's Portfolio

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, August 18 2011

When Jumo launched last year, it had all the elements of a buzzworthy new thing: The celebrity founder, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes; the new-wave mission, a social network to connect nonprofits and supporters; the added heft of a reported $3.5 million in foundation funding.

Jumo announced yesterday that it will become part of GOOD Magazine, another unconventional nexus of do-goodery. This deal could only happen in 2011, involving as it does a nonprofit backed by the newfangled Omidyar Network and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation* to build a technology platform, and a for-profit new media company with a mission to support people who do good. Despite GOOD's commitment to social change, it's still a for-profit buying a non-profit, leading some to ask, how does that work?

On the Philanthropy News Digest blog, Foundation Center President Brad Smith writes:

We don't know the terms of the deal, and undoubtedly everyone involved is sufficiently lawyered up to make sure everything is on the level. Still, the Jumo sale raises questions. Most foundation grant letters I have seen have language restricting the use of the funds to charitable, scientific, or educational purposes. Does selling your nonprofit and its intellectual property comply with these conditions?

For Knight, the answer seems to be yes.

"Knight is excited about the merger of Good and Jumo, announced today," Knight's Damian Thorman wrote in a blog post. "The combined organizations have the potential to complement one another in terms of content and online engagement. We believe that GOOD’s content will strengthen Jumo’s online engagement platform, and help bring together more people working toward social change."

Jumo's crown jewel is the source code that powers its social network. This is the code that understands when you type "water" into its search tool, you might be looking for "land conservation" or "natural disaster prevention," for example, and can suggest nonprofits to get involved with based on those topics. In a post on Jumo's blog, Chris Hughes announced that Jumo's code would be open-sourced — "in the spirit of our heritage as a non-profit."

The folks at Betabeat, who cover New York's tech sector, report that the nonprofit was sold for $0 as a graceful exit for Hughes, and that GOOD hasn't committed to bringing in any of Jumo's technology talent. No one has disclosed the terms of the deal, so we don't know if that's true. But the Betabeat item raises some other points that definitely are. Throughout its independent life, Jumo struggled to find a design and feature set that would attract and retain an audience, trying what Betabeat calls a "Kickstarter-esque" component for campaigns that never quite took off, for example.

Jumo's central question — how best to build an online hub that might funnel clicktivists and link-sharers into tangible action, offline or otherwise — was an ambitious one, and by most accounts it remains unanswered. But Hughes' exit answers a different question — one about how permeable the membrane is between non-profits and for-profit social enterprise, from the perspective of the philanthropists who support both sectors — and that could be just as interesting.

techPresident parent Personal Democracy Forum has received Omidyar Network funding in the past, most recently to run a technology-in-journalism workshop in Washington, D.C. PdF also received Knight Foundation funding for 10Questions in 2010.