If you’ve listened to the news or checked Facebook in the last few days, you’ve probably heard of – or watched – the record-breaking viral video called Kony 2012, which was produced and directed by the 501(c)(3) non-profit Invisible Children. (The video has racked up 56,647,137 views as of the posting of this article.) Invisible Children is fighting for the arrest of Joseph Kony — a war criminal wanted by the International Criminal Court for heinous war crimes — and for peace in the regions of Africa affected by his violent rebel group, The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). They are hoping to use this video (and others that they’ve made) to spread awareness about their most wanted subject. Invisible Children’s mission is an important one, however the founders of the non-profit are being put through the gauntlet by the media and some sources say that donations to organization could be better spent and better applied elsewhere. The critics have spoken so loudly that Invisible Children decided to offer a response on their website, which still isn’t quieting the discontent.
The history of the conflict is a complicated one, and we won’t attempt to explain it here. In short, Invisible Children is attempting to raise awareness for the capture and prosecution of Joseph Kony for his actions — which include mass-abduction, rape, slaughter and other heinous crimes against humanity — and the rescue of child soldiers he has enlisted in his effort. In addition to being under fire for use of finances, Invisible Children has been called out by Ugandan citizens for misunderstanding and misinterpreting their story in the video. They also argue that Invisible Children is giving assistance to possibly corrupt regional governments in Uganda in order to combat Joseph Kony. In their rebuttal, the founders of Invisible Children do not deny their support of local governments and can’t seem to explain away this incriminating photo taken of the organization’s co-founders posing with guns amidst members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army — which the organization cooperates with despite the fact that the group has been accused of rape, looting, and the use of child soldiers.
The Charity Navigator (which you should know about if you donate to charity) gives Invisible Children 2 out of 4 stars on Accountability and Transparency, because the organization only has 4 of the recommended 5 board members and has not disclosed its independent financial audit. Invisible Children used 32% of its $10.3 million in 2010-2011 donations on salary, travel and filmmaking last year. The organization states to donors on their website that, “100% of your contribution will go straight to advocacy, awareness and events that directly focus on ending the LRA’s atrocities.” Because the organization is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, its financials are publicly available so donors can know how their money is being used. Many critics of the organization say they are spending too much money on films and travel and not enough on their ground level efforts to enact change.
Critics are not saying that Invisible Children’s mission is wrong – they are criticizing the group for not effectively using its resources and possibly siding with the wrong coalition in the conflict. The organization does participate in ground level efforts with rebuilding projects, sustainable farming initiatives, and scholarship programs – which take up roughly 1/3 of their budget (most goes to scholarships). President Obama last year committed aid and 100 troops to the effort to remove Joseph Kony from the region in order to try him in the International Criminal Court. That may not enough to get the job done, but it seems like a concrete use of resources toward the cause.