Hot-button topics like gun ownership, marriage equality, or disaster relief are controversial for a reason: They inspire strong emotions and even stronger arguments. Causes.com, one of the original platforms for finding, helping, and donating to philanthropic campaigns, is hoping to turn that bickering into something positive with the launch of the Supporter Network.

The Supporter Network is a way for Causes to tackle tough, ideological discussions and turn those arguments into actions. The Network is a social layer, kind of like LinkedIn, where users, non-profits, and celebrities can post information, raise money, and share the campaigns (and talking points) that are important to them. But if anger really is the Internet’s most powerful emotion, does Causes stand a chance?

What It Is

Causes was founded seven years ago by Joe Green and Sean Parker as one of Facebook’s very first “apps.” On Causes, users can submit a campaign and recruit friends (or strangers) to pledge to help by signing online petitions or donating with a click of a button. Since its creation, Causes has collected 34 million signatures for grassroots campaigns and raised more than $48 million for non-profits across 156 countries.

Causes achieved that with the help of big-name investors such as Parker (of Napster and Facebook fame). But its new Supporter Network is a bit of a gamble.

Causes health

That’s partially because Causes is breaking away from Facebook. The Supporter Network is a standalone site built around a series of its own, unique profiles. Users, non-profits, and campaigns will all have profiles that encourage actions like posting relevant links or donating. (There is still an option to connect with Facebook or Twitter.) Users can find their friends and invite them to "like" the causes and campaigns they support. Non-profits can post campaigns and recruit users to help. And campaigns will become repositories of information where anyone — users or companies — can post stories, pictures, and links clipped from the web.

This new freedom means Causes is broadening its scope from strict “philanthropy” to allowing users to engage with controversial, personal standpoints, like gun control legislation or fracking chemicals in our food.

Why It Matters

Facebook is home to a lot of chatter, but ideological conversations tend to be more aggressive than progressive, and they only sometimes result in real-world change. It’s something that Causes CEO Matt Mahan pointed out when he visited the Greatist office to demo the new website: Facebook, with its more than 1 billion users, can sometimes feel like a dead end for social change. In his experience, Mahan said Facebook posts tend to garner negative, combative responses or fail to create follow up actions. Instead, the Causes' new Supported Network was modeled after a political field office. In this case the common goal isn’t an election, but creating change of any kind, with all users empowered to act rather than argue.

Take, for example, Causes' new “sub-pledges,” where users can fundraise on behalf of a non-profit. Now, any user can pledge to raise money from their friends and donate it to a campaign. It’s simple, but it means users are now working with non-profits rather than for them. Moreover, everything on the site is ranked by efficacy: stories, pledges, and users that generate the most clicks, pledges, and referrals are pushed to the top of profile pages and given a spotlight.

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Is It Legit?

Too soon to tell. Causes has been a social good success story, but the Supporter Network is banking that people want another social platform. This is a challenge considering that other, similar companies have stumbled in the past, such as Jumo (which also had a connection to Facebook).

Causes seems like it has a better shot thanks to its focus on action. It’s also pairing up with big name brands like AT&T, Toms, and Toyota to help fund its mission. These brands pay Causes to help run their own social good outreach, and in return they can run branded campaigns and get some nice consumer-facing karma.

Assuming the financial model holds and users enjoy the new features, Causes’ Supported Networks has a chance to redefine how we do good online.

What do you think of the new Causes? Let us know in the comments below or find the author on Twitter at @zsniderman.

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