Unfounded Criticisms of Invisible Children’s Use of Donations

Posted on 09 March 2012

The makers of Kony 2012, Invisible Children, have come under fire for their use of donations.Where to start with Invisible Children and its Kony 2012 video?

First, let me preface this post by saying that I do not support Invisible Children, nor am I against their current efforts. Instead, I am still in the information-gathering stage of the topic as I form my opinions on the organization and its mission.

Secondly, if you haven’t seen the Kony 2012 video, check it out below.

The Kony 2012 story presents countless topics worthy of discussion but, for now, let’s take a look at the philanthropic elements that seem to be causing some controversy.

Invisible Children, the organization behind the Kony 2012 video, is under fire for how it distributes money raised through philanthropy. Specifically, critics point to the fact that only about one-third of expenditures in 2011 went directly to funding programs in Uganda, while remaining funds went to salaries, production costs, and other administrative expenses.

Here’s a breakdown of Invisible Children’s major expenditures from 2011 (from Yahoo news):

$8.9 million Total Spent in 2011:

$2.8 million directly funded Uganda

$1.7 million in US employee salaries

$1.07 million in Travel Expenses

$850,000 in Production Costs

$400,000 in Office Rent in San Diego

$357,000 in Film Costs

$244,000 in Professional Services

$16,000 in Entertainment

 

It seems obvious to me that the main goal for Invisible Children in 2011 was creating the 30-minute video, Kony 2012, that thrust the group into the international spotlight, and much of the 2011 expenditures appear to have gone to that purpose. Nothing I’ve seen on the group’s website and giving page infers that all donations go to programs in Uganda. In fact, under “What We Do” on the Invisible Children website, they state quite clearly:

We are storytellers, activists and everyday people who use the power of media to inspire young people to help end the longest running armed conflict in Africa. We make documentaries, tour them around the world, and lobby our nation’s leaders to make ending this conflict a priority.

Invisible Children’s 2011 spending sure seems to reflect that mission. Why would a donor assume that all, or most, of their gift was going to be used to support programs on the ground in Uganda?

Where I sit, Invisible Children seems very transparent regarding how it spends its funding and, as we’ve seen, its financials are a matter of public record. Just go check out their website. It’s all right there. This isn’t a case of Kayne West spending nearly all of his foundation’s money on parties and salaries. Instead, Invisible Children’s expenditures reflect the organization’s current goal of raising awareness about Joseph Kony’s activities in Uganda as a means to pressure the US government to maintain military advisors there.

Invisible Children’s CEO, Ben Keesey, gave an interview to Yahoo news where, seemingly speaking from the inside of a closet, he explained the “one-third” approach the organization uses for unrestricted giving. Donors oftentimes want their gifts to go to very specific uses, leaving non-profits everywhere starving for unrestricted giving in order to pay salaries, rent, and explore growth opportunities. As long as an organization is transparent about its mission, like Invisible Children seems to be, I see no credible criticism of its spending policies.

For those who may have been stuck under a rock for the last several days, here’s the Kony 2012 video:


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