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#Kony2012: Should You Donate? How NGOs Work

When working on projects, we often say, “Chaos will ensue” and we’re happy when it does because it means we’re making progress. It’s also often said that “Inventions should cause disruption.” Sometimes that disruption is good and sometimes it’s bad. The kind of chaos and disruption Invisible Children’s #Kony2012 campaign has caused is good. No matter what side of the debate you’re on, you can’t argue against awareness about child soldiers and child sex slaves. If we don’t know, we can’t do anything. But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there? The concern is, “Should I donate?”

I serve as the treasurer for an NGO, as co-chair for a government set-up advisory board, and as the president of a church. (Yes, for incorporation purposes, churches have presidents.) So I have a bit of experience in the area of acceptable financial practices of donor or tax-payer funded entities. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I know enough to understand what I’m looking at when reading an organization's financials.

Now, I’m not going to go into the details about Invisible Children’s finances, because they’ve already adequately covered that in a recent response, but it should be noted that Invisible Children does several things they don’t have to do. For example, they post their financials on their website. So despite some recent claims that they’re required to do this; they aren’t. They do it because they want to be transparent.

In addition, Invisible Children’s financials have recently been approached from the stand-point of what they’re actually doing in Uganda. That approach misunderstands not only their stated goals—which involve awareness as a major component—but it also misunderstands how non-profits work. Although the majority of non-profits are doing physical work in some place, there is nothing to prevent a non-profit from being mainly about the goal of awareness. If that’s all Invisible Children did, and the government continued to be in approval of their 501(c)(3), it would be completely acceptable. But Invisible Children does more than raise awareness; they’re also doing incredible work on the ground. When approaching their financials, it’s inaccurate to suggest that money spent on travel or camera equipment is somehow not going towards their work. The travel expenses involve a massive part of their work since they travel around the nation campaigning and showing their films to raise awareness—not to mention all the trips they have to take to Africa to check on the progress of their projects, meet with partners, and get new footage.

One of the most startling things about joining a non-profit board is how much time and money is spent on insurance, building costs, computer costs, and other expenses that appear to be a distraction from your primary cause. But if these things don’t happen, the cause doesn’t happen. It’s a big misnomer that somehow non-profits are so different that people just bring their own computers, and pay for their own insurance, and that they’re all underpaid. People shouldn’t be paid top-notch salaries to work at a non-profit, but they should be paid well enough to make them feel appreciated. And a large staff to accomplish a big mission is expensive. (Note: I currently don’t get paid by a single non-profit.)

I’m also getting the feeling that people (especially the media?) are surprised by how fast the Kony 2012 campaign has gone viral and how many celebrities are for it. Now, I’m amazed like everyone else, but I’m even more shocked by how long it takes people to get impassioned about disheartening statistics elsewhere. I ran a campaign raising funds for Horn of Africa Famine Relief for my birthday, and I was amazed at how few people even wanted more information. We’re talking about 13 million people affected by this problem, and the famine didn’t even trend on Twitter (to my knowledge). So why aren’t we more shocked about the general apathy? Is compassion really that surprising? Shouldn’t that be the natural response?

So would I donate to Invisible Children? I haven’t yet, but that’s not because I’m somehow against what they’re doing financially or because I’m concerned that they support action by an army that has some corruption. (Reminder: Torture at Guantanamo Bay and American soldiers prosecuted for killing civilians. There is no excuse for brutality or war crimes, ever, but there is also no corruption free military. And sometimes military action is required, despite its flaws.) I haven’t donated to Invisible Children yet because I’m currently supporting aid relief with other organizations and because Invisible Children is doing pretty well financially.

But we should all be passionate about the cause of saving the lives of children (and Invisible Children may actually need the funding right now more than I realize, so I'm not suggeting my method). I have signed the petition, and recommend you do so as well; be listed among the names of citizens that demands that the US government bring Kony to justice. I also encourage you to watch the Kony 2012 film.

If you’re not sold on Invisible Children’s mission and methods, that’s one thing, but name a better way to end this problem and bring one of the leading war criminals of our time to justice. (Because the Rwanda Genocide is a testament to what happens when we do nothing.) If you’re more passionate about a different cause and want to donate to that, do so. But let’s not make excuses or accusations until we actually know the facts. And no matter what, donate to something that’s alleviating world poverty and bringing justice. It’s the least we can do.

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The Infinite God is everywhere, are you looking? I am dedicated to finding God in all aspects of life – the Bible, the news, and the arts. Because I find that the most fulfilling journey of all is searching for heaven here on earth.