If you work for a small nonprofit, chances are you’re already busy building schools, vaccinating infants, or providing emergency medical relief. “You don’t have time to stop and say, ‘What should we be doing on Facebook today?’” says Chris Hughes. That may sound like a brutally frank admission from the guy who cofounded Facebook, but Hughes isn’t suggesting that nonprofits give up on social media. Far from it. What smaller nonprofits need, he argues, is a new platform that will make it easier for them to connect online with the people most likely to care about their good work.
He calls his new idea Jumo, which means “together in concert” in Yoruba. Due to launch in late fall, the site will connect “everyday people” with a steady stream of information about the organizations that are “highly relevant to them,” Hughes says. Although Jumo is likely to feature “give now” widgets for charities, the goal is to foster longer-term relationships rather than one-shot donations or short-term attention. Larger nonprofits have been quicker to take advantage of social media, Hughes says, “because they have the resources to tell their own stories. They have staffs that can specialize in using these newer technologies” such as Facebook or Twitter. Small- and medium-sized NGOs also have compelling stories to share but lack the time “to have a more robust presence,” he says.
Time isn’t the only thing standing between small organizations and a stronger online presence, says Beth Kanter, co-author of The Networked Nonprofit and frequent speaker to nonprofit audiences. Many organizations lack an effective communications plan, she says, “so when they try to use social media, it doesn’t work well because they don’t have capacity, comfort, or content.”
Where is all the relevant content that Hughes is promising going to come from? Not from Jumo. “We’re about building the pipes,” he says, “not creating content or curating information.” Jumo will collect all the media published each day related to specific issues, such as HIV or climate change, from blogs, news sites, Facebook, Twitter, and other sources. Users will also be able to find and connect with organizations from around the world doing work on each featured issue. Jumo will provide some vetting to ensure that “the best organizations are surfaced in front of new users as quickly as possible,” Hughes says.
To grow his own start-up nonprofit, Hughes is drawing on lessons learned at Facebook as well as insights gained from being social media strategist for the Barack Obama presidential campaign. “One of the biggest lessons a lot of us took away [from the campaign] was the importance of relationships in building a movement. Reading an article about an important cause is not enough. Getting an e-mail with a big red ‘donate’ button is not quite it, either,” Hughes says. “It’s about spending time to get to know an issue or organization and understanding why its work is important.”
The 26-year-old Hughes is also getting some coaching from “smart people in the field,” he says, including Columbia University professor and global poverty expert Jeffrey Sachs and Linda Rottenberg, CEO of Endeavor, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurs in developing countries. A handful of individual donors have contributed funding. Eventually, Jumo aims to be self-sustaining with revenue likely to come from online donations and advertising.
Kanter warns that nonprofits will still have to work strategically to get out their message. “Even if there’s a tool that makes it easier or saves time,” she says, “people who work at nonprofits have to make a change in habit” if they hope to tap the benefits of social media.