Invisible Accountability

America stood in awe on March 8, 2012 when Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 video reached over 50 million views after only three days on YouTube. After watching the film, each and every observer was left with shocking clips and images of Joseph Kony’s inexorable mission: to “purify” the Acholi people of Uganda. Joseph Kony, the leader of a Ugandan guerrilla group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has been attempting to achieve this mission by abducting children from their homes, arming them with weapons, and forcing them to not only abduct other children, but even to kill their own parents and neighbors.  Kony has also turned many girls into his own personal child-sex slaves. While Kony has been able to advance his mission for years, it has been the mission of Invisible Children to stop these atrocities.

Since Ben Keesey, Invisible Children’s Executive Director and CEO, returned from a trip to Uganda, it has been his passion to put an end to Joseph Kony and the LRA through, “awareness, advocacy, civilian protection, and rehabilitation and recovery,” as the organization’s website proclaims. Keesey has fulfilled his goal of awareness by successfully reaching millions of people with his video. As viewers watch the horrifying clips from Uganda and listen to Keesey and Russell’s inspiring proposal on how to change the dire situation in Africa, one cannot help but be motivated to suddenly donate money, hang up awareness posters and sport the latest Invisible Children apparel. However, upon closer inspection of Invisible Children, perhaps one should not be so quick to support this organization. Charity Navigator, an independent non-profit ratings company which seeks to evaluate charities in order to promote intelligent giving, provides the following food for thought:
Only 37% of Invisible Children’s expenses are directly spent on programs in Africa.

Though 80.56% of the administration’s finances are allocated towards its “three-fold mission of awareness, advocacy, and on-the-ground development,” realize that only 37% of the money is designated toward directly benefiting the people in Africa through providing things like education and jobs. Thus, while it is true that much of Invisible Children’s mission is awareness, it is important to know where your money is being allocated to. “Awareness” and “advocacy” may not be what you had intended your gift for, but with this organization, much of its money is allocated to such expenses rather than directly to the Ugandan people themselves.

Invisible Children does not have a full independent board.
The reason for this deduction in score was due to Invisible Children’s lack of a “full independent board.” To reach this requirement by Charity Navigator, organizations need to have a minimum of five people on their board. Invisible Children is just shy with four members. This is an important characteristic for an organization, because without a large amount of board members, the charity may not have a deterrent from unethical and unjust decisions; potentially leaving it without suitable checks and balances and variance in thinking. Charity Navigator reports that only 5% of the 5,500 charities that they evaluate lack this requirement, and that they have often found that, without a robust board, scandals and indecent decisions can ensue. Nevertheless, Invisible Children is reportedly now working to find a fifth board member to increase their current Charity Navigator rating.

Invisible Children lacks an audit oversight committee.
Without an audit oversight committee, Invisible Children lacks a neutral third party between the administration and the independent accountant whose job is to prepare the organization’s financial statements. Of the thousands of philanthropic organizations that Charity Navigator oversees, only 6% of the organizations do not meet this necessary requirement.

Invisible Children lacks a Donor Privacy Policy.
Although Invisible Children does have a policy on its site about protecting the names of its donors, it requires the donors themselves to take on the responsibility of removing their own private information, such as their names and contact information, from any lists that Invisible Children may trade, share, or sell.

While it is certainly not wrong to give to Invisible Children and to be moved by their mission in Uganda, the hope here is to promote educated giving rather than thoughtless giving. Even in the Bible, King Solomon, the wisest person to ever live, discouraged such behavior. In Proverbs 14:15, Solomon says,“The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.” After all, when’s the last time you second guessed a humanitarian cause and looked up how truly “charitable” it was? So, before you pull out that wallet, try taking advantage of some of the following useful tips on thoughtful giving.

Tips of How to Give Effectively
Identify your passion
Before thoughtlessly giving, figure out what you genuinely care the most about. Is it cancer research? Homelessness and poverty? Education? By identifying what you value, you can best decide where your money ought to be allocated to.

Do your research
Oftentimes donors can be misled by seemingly wonderful organizations. Before making a giving decision, ask yourself: Where is this money truly going to? How credible is this organization? What have they done in the past and what do they plan to do? By asking yourself questions like these, you allow room for critical thinking. By visiting credible sites like CharityNavigator.com and GuideStar.org, you can easily avoid this common mistake.

Choose your contribution
While many organizations will accept nearly anything you have to offer, figure out what type of gift will be most effective. Is it supplies that they need? For example, organizations like Salvation Army and Goodwill flourish off of donations of goods, while many other organizations require strictly monetary donations in order to accomplish their mission.

If you don’t have the money
Provided that you have the time, volunteering is a great way to lend a helping hand without spending a dime. Oftentimes a warm body is all a charity really needs. Soup kitchens and food pantries are great examples of humanitarian organizations that truly just need people to help serve. This issue of the Good News is packed with different opportunities to volunteer. Don’t hesitate to do something!

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