Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Causes.com Reinvents Itself (Sort of) as a Social Network for Social Good

With six million active users per month, “We have the world’s largest socially conscious audience,” according to Causes.com CEO Matt Mahan.

Problem is, those are six million Facebook users.

Causes CEO Matt Mahan

Causes CEO Matt Mahan

For the past six years, Causes helped people gather signatures and raise money for various campaigns by sharing them on Facebook. After signing up millions of users as a Facebook app in its early days, Causes later changed tack to pull people onto its own site — but all the while used Facebook logins exclusively.

“At the core of grassroots organizing is connecting with people with the same values and goals. We historically outsourced that to Facebook,” Mahan said in a recent interview.

Mahan, who was internally promoted to become Causes CEO a year ago, has close personal ties to Facebook — he lived in the same college dorm at the same time as the founding team, and ran the first political campaign on Facebook, for Harvard student body president.

But, just like Zynga before it, Mahan’s Causes is now working to create an off-Facebook network under its own control. The new Causes, which launches today, will include user profiles, personal campaign pages, and analytics for brands and nonprofits.

Screenshot of the new Causes.com

Screenshot of the new Causes.com

Mahan said the difference is that the previous Causes product was oriented around taking actions, while the new one will give people more opportunities to share. “Just getting a million people to sign a petition is not how change happens,” he said.

But, at the same time, it’s not that different. Mahan said he’s not concerned that existing users will be upset about the changes, which were made with help from the team at Votizen, which Causes acquired eight months ago. “This is all enhancement. No features were removed,” he said.

Supporters on the new Causes can opt in to providing campaigns with additional contact information, like their email addresses. Users’ activities are public by default, but there’s an option to be private, too.

Previous efforts at cause-oriented social networks — like Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes’s Jumo — haven’t worked out, and the new Causes looks very similar. But the difference, according to Hughes’ former classmate Mahan, is that Causes already exists. “Frankly, I wouldn’t want to do this if we had no users,” Mahan said.

Causes makes its money on sponsored campaigns, rather than taking a cut of donations or selling contact information.

The San Francisco-based company has 65 employees and last raised funding in 2010 ($9 million led by NEA). As for revenue, “We’re making it, not rolling in it,” Mahan said.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik