With good reason and mostly good intentions, critics of the viral “KONY 2012” activism movie produced by Invisible Children have complained a lot about the organization’s supposedly “shady” finances.
I have worked with the organization for the past two years, before Joseph Kony was well-known and before Invisible Children received the publicity and attention it attracted through the now famous video.
I can say, whole-heartedly that Invisible Children is not an organization that’s only after your money and that it is definitely not a scam. Its volunteers, executives, and supporters are all committed individuals who are truly passionate about stopping Kony from targeting any more communities and children, rehabilitating the affected communities, and ending war and terror once in Central Africa. Their passion, enthusiasm, and dedication to the mission are not misdirected and false. Like any social cause, once you truly realize what you’re fighting for, you don’t give up till you win the fight.
That set aside, I want to primarily address concerns about Invisible Children’s finances and its mission. I know there are many other concerns about Invisible Children, but I feel the issue is far more nuanced than many of those blogs and criticisms have made it.
People have overly simplified the whole situation, claiming that Invisible Children is a scam because only 38% of the money goes to direct services in Uganda and Central Africa, services such as education, sustainable jobs, rehabilitating child soldiers, etc. However, the biggest problem with such claims is that Invisible Children never states that it is an organization that spends all of its money on direct services. It claims to spend its money accomplishing a three-fold objective, one of which is spending money that goes towards on-the-ground programs.
The other objectives include raising awareness (~34%), and advocacy efforts (1%). Therefore, it makes perfect sense that about 38% of Invisible Children’s money goes towards actual rehabilitation and prevention efforts in Central Africa, with about 80% of their total revenue going towards its mission.
Evaluated in that sense, Invisible Children does not squander its money or use it for unknown or shady purposes like it has been accused of. Its mission makes sense because it actually acts in all directions and tries to solve the issue at its roots (awareness, advocacy) and fix the problems the LRA has created (via direct Central African programs).
Of this, $1 million has been spent for travel, which seems outlandish until you realize that a cornerstone of Invisible Children’s programs is its year-round roadie program. Invisible Children’s roadie program essentially sends out ten vans across the country to promote the organization through free movie screenings. Traveling around the country twice a semester in a van will definitely wrack up considerable gas charges. This method of grassroots campaigning has helped define Invisible Children – passionate volunteers spreading the word across the country involving other enthusiastic youth.
Moreover, these roadie tours also include a war survivor who shares his/her experience with students – all free of charge. These war survivors have to fly to and from Africa, which also costs significant amounts of money that adds up. Additionally, other general travel costs for advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., and implementing and assessing the situation in Africa also make sense given how ridiculously expensive it is these days to travel anywhere.
Next, approximately 16% goes towards administrative costs, which include paying salaries for the executives and the support staff running the programs in Uganda (which by the way, are staffed 95% by Ugandans – this isn’t a “White Man’s Burden” issue either). These CEOs do not take a lot of money (around 88k per person) compared to other CEOs of non-profits (Nancy Brinker of the Komen Foundation, with her $450k paycheck, comes to mind) and is a very modest and reasonable salary. I don’t expect these people to be able to live on less or take no salary: they work a good cause but need to make a living as well. These administrative costs also pay the salaries of the workers in Uganda who oversee the local efforts.
Lastly, I wanted to address the costs Invisible Children spends on producing movies and videos. First off, the reason KONY 2012 got as big as it did and probably why you’re reading this article right now, is because of the “KONY 2012” video. That video, without a doubt, was excellently produced, appealed to all the right emotions, and had amazing graphics and clear explanations, allowing anyone to understand what’s happening in Central Africa. This issue only blew up because the video blew up and naturally, with more attention, comes more scrutiny. However, it’s because of that video, and the countless other movies Invisible Children has produced that people even know about the conflict in Africa.
Ultimately, regardless of whether or not you agree with Invisible Children you are supporting its cause and its mission, simply by talking about it in some way or another.
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