I’ve given this a lot of thought. Many are out there trying to debunk the organization, its CEO, film maker and even the existence of Kony himself. I usually throw my opinion out there pretty quick but not this time (maybe later). Instead, after spending several hours sifting through the IRS 990 documents of Invisible Children, here’s what I’ve found that I think is most relevant. Does it change your thoughts on the campaign? Will you be donating or putting up a poster? Let me know in the comments.
1. Family matters
The CEO (Ben Kessey) is married to the HR Director (Tiffany Kessey). The only other questionable/close business dealings I could find is that the organization did business with ‘Progressive Copier Systems”, a copier, toner and office supply company owned by board member Scott Wolfe.
2. Mission Mix-up
In 2008, the mission of Invisible Children according to the 990 is “Media based awareness and advocacy programs in the U.S.”. In 2010, it’s been changed to “Invisible Children uses film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war to restore LRA-affected communities in central Africa to peace and prosperity.”
3. They spent 80% on “programs” in 2010
According to the 990, in 2010 they spent 80% of expenditures on “programs”. The next point is the interesting one.
4. ‘Programs’ are mostly film-making, not providing service to kids in Uganda.
When outlining the majority of their program expenditures, it’s filming and production costs that make up the lion’s share.
- 8.9M spent
- 2.8M to Uganda
- 1.7M in U.S. salaries
- 357k in film costs
- 850k in production costs
- 244k in professional services
- 1.07M in travel
- 400k in office rent
- 16k in entertainment
They did make a $2,355,873 wire-transfer grant to ‘sub-saharan africa’ for the purpose of ‘education’. When the leadership has been pushed on this issue in several media interviews, they consistently say that unless donations are specifically restricted, they are split approximately in 3 equal ways.
- The creation of film, documentation of the atrocities and the digital media used to display it
- The movement – the mobilization of national and international community, advocacy and nationwide tours of the film
- The work on the ground in Uganda
6. The salaries aren’t that high
All staff made less than $90k in 2010 which is quite a bit less than leaders of most organizations over $10M in revenue, or really good filmmakers.
7. Drop in Charity Navigator rating
This year Charity Navigator dropped their rating from 4 (out of 4) stars to 2, likely because they do not have 5 independent board members and were missing a whistle-blower and records retention policy until recently.
8. Over 80 Million people have seen the video
Like it or not, agree with it or not and believe them or not, they’ve caused quite a stir. There are TONS of news, blogs and conversations about the campaign. The one I’d suggest you read is this round up from African writers.