8 truths you should know about Invisible Children and the #stopkony campaign

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.

8 thoughts on “8 truths you should know about Invisible Children and the #stopkony campaign

  1. Nathan – Thanks for doing the hard work of research. Very interesting. While film is a dynamic tool to raise awareness and consciousness, it sounds very self-serving. Yet it does move people. Frankly, I would be interested in know ing how many people actually WATCHED the 30 min. video v. sharing it and imploring others to watch. Felt like the extortion of those emails “send it to 10 friends within 5 min. or a puppy will die.” 🙂

    1. Good point Theresa. Youtube counts a ‘view’ anytime someone clicks ‘play’ whether they finish the video or not. The analytics will tell how many watched for how long but I that’s not publicly accessible. Many I’ve spoken with said they ‘watched enough to get the gist’ – meaning they didn’t finish it.

  2. With all due respect to people who’ve spent time doing a little bit of research on the film (it’s important that people question before donating or showing immense support), I think the angle of a lot of these critiques are pretty skewed.

    REGARDING THE BUDGET Invisible Children’s mission, as found on the front page of their site is to use “film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldier in Joseph Kony’s rebel war…”. While this mission hopes that the result of the films will bring prosperity to those kids, it clearly does not tie the organization to any direct action.

    Their mission is create stirring films, and that means they SHOULD be spending the bulk of their programming budget on filming. The animated film “The Lorax”, requiring no travels to Africa, had a $70 Million budget. The upcoming “Avengers” film spent $220 Million. Films are expensive to make, and $8.9 Million is a relatively small budget, considering the expense of travelling and filming in a foreign country.

    REGARDING THE STYLE OF FILM Yes- the call to action is a little cheesy, but Invisible Children does have a target audience (and has since 2005). Since their first huge campaign, the Global Night Commute, they have reached out to high school and college students because, as many movements have shown, that’s the demographic most likely to participate in huge peaceful protests.

  3. As a note, Nathan, I appreciate that what you shared here were just insights- both positive and negative. My comment is more aimed at the critique as a whole, with your blog as a platform.

  4. Thank you for your research.

    The biggest issues in my opinion: the profit from Oil, the profit for Companys from “near by slavery” workers in SouthAfrica. And a small disturbing side effect, it is the election year and Obama has some benefit from the Film Kony 2012. (The Typewriter Message signed with Obama is a joke, in my eyes. )

    We have a very different look on Kony, but somehow the same.

    I´m from Germany – we drink a lot of coffee and our cars getting bigger year after year, but everyone is talking about the high Gasoline-Prize and that a cup of coffee is getting unaffordable for the small workers. A few years ago, we did have a president who has accidentally blurted, that our army is involved in wars gaining resources. Because of his words, he had to go. – to understand this, our army is strictly for defence. Our Basic Law prohibits the fight for market Economic considerations.
    The biggest ANGST in Germany – that our money become worthless again, as it was due to the second world war. But beside this, German troops fighting elsewhere, outside Germany you know all that. We know it. Germans are fighting side by side with usa and some others, since terrorism is the new and ultimate reason for every conflict.

    (btw, afaik, most internet activists in germany dosn´t believe in the official version of 9/11)

    In my opinion Capitalisms is only function, if someone else has to pay the bill.
    I think, it´s more easy to face the truth. We are responsible. No matter if you are Christian, driving a big car, or drink a cup of coffee. Those who can´t defence themselves has to pay our bill. SouthAfrica, specially Uganda is only another episode in resource exploitation.
    Jason Russel a tool. Invisible Child a steppingstone, Museveni certainly dependent on Western governments, in other words – not free.

    I hope for more transparency some day, more justice, more humanity.

    With peaceful regards,

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