Representatives of Stop Kony 2012 have denied scam claims about the charity, also known as Invisible Children, that have arisen since the group shot to mega-prominence earlier this week.
Allegations the organization is nothing more than a scam aimed at convincing well-intentioned folks to part with their hard-earned cash emerged within a day of the group's mega-hit call-to-action video going viral on Wednesday.
But now the group--which became a worldwide phenomenon earlier this week after its video asking people to donate money to help it end the brutal reign of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony went viral--is defending itself against the claims, and as Stop Kony 2012 denies the scam claims, a debate between Invisible Children haters and supporters has swept across the Web.
The group, which goes by the names KONY 2012, Stop Kony and Invisible Children, has created an entire new section of its site dubbed Critiques, aimed at rebutting its many detractors, and the page includes a lengthy statement addressing many of the rumors and allegations about the charity that have emerged in recent days.
This statement is our official response to some of these articles and is a source for accurate information about Invisible Children's mission, financials and approach to stopping LRA violence. Invisible Children's mission is to stop LRA violence and support the war-affected communities in East and Central Africa, the statement explains.
We are committed, and always have been, to be 100 percent financially transparent and to communicate in plain language the mission of the organization so that everyone can make an informed decision about whether they want to support our strategy.
The statement was accompanied by a comprehensive graphic (attached to this article, above) detailing exactly how the company spends funds it receives through donations, which outlines that about 37.14 percent of its expenses go toward Central Africa programs.
That was one of the facts that really riled up critics of Kony 2012, but the group says that is because it is also an awareness group, and that it has never claimed to focus exclusively on the goal of actually carrying out programs in Africa, but also in getting people involved in the cause, and getting it on the radar of politicians and others who can make a difference. No matter what you think of the group, it can't be denied that Invisible Children did that with a remarkable level of success this week.
The statement lays out the group's three-pronged approach, which includes the following: 1) Make the world aware of Kony's Lord's Resistance Army. This includes making documentary films and touring them around the world so that they're seen for free by millions of people. 2) Channel energy from viewers of IC films into large-scale advocacy campaigns to stop the LRA and protect civilians. 3) Operate programs on the ground in LRA-affected areas that provide protection, rehabilitation and development assistance.
About 80.5 percent of the charity's funding is spent on furthering these three missions, the group says, adding it maintains full financial transparency to ensure people understand what they're choosing to support when they make a donation:
Invisible Children's financial statements are online for everyone to see, the statement says. Financial statements from the last 5 years, including our 990, are available at www.invisiblechildren.com/financials. The IRS requires nonprofits to file Form 990 to provide the public information on operations.
The statement goes on to address a number of individual claims about Invisible Children and Stop Kony 2012 that have arisen in recent days.
The Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator are two of the best impartial sources of information on charities and how they're run, and neither one of these resources has a very rosy picture of Kony 2012.
Charity Navigator's impression of the organization has fallen precipitously since 2009. It gave Invisible Children a four-star, 63.43 rating in July 2009, but by September 2010, its stock had fallen to a two-star 44.42 rating. Though it looks like it may be on its way back up, earning a three-star 51.52 record in March 2012, the volatility in Charity Navigator's opinion doesn't inspire trust.
But Invisible Children's retort seems to paint a different picture:
Charity Navigator gives Invisible Children 3 out of 4 stars. It's gives our Programs its highest rating of 4 stars. Our Accountability and Transparency score is currently at 2 stars due to the fact that Invisible Children does not have 5 independent voting members on our board of directors--we currently have 4, the statement reads. We are in the process of interviewing potential board members, and we will add an additional independent member this year in order to regain our 4-star rating by 2013. We have been independently audited by Considine and Considine since Fiscal Year 2006, and all of our audits have resulted in unqualified opinions on the audit reports.
Considine & Considine is a San Diego accounting firm, according to its website.
Invisible Children also had a response to the Better Business Bureau:
Participation in BBB's program is voluntary-- we are choosing to wait until we have expanded our Board of Directors, as some questions hinge on the size of our Board, the statement says. The current Board is small in size and reflects Invisible Children's grassroots foundation. We have now reached a juncture of success that has astonished even our greatest supporters.
The Council on Foreign Relations has also critiqued Invisible Children and similar groups thusly:
In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA's use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony -- a brutal man, to be sure -- as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan [government] atrocities or those of Sudan's People's Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.
Invisible Children responded, We do not defend any of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government or the Ugandan army (UPDF). None of the money donated through Invisible Children ever goes to the government of Uganda or any other government.
In other words, the verdict is out on Stop Kony 2012, though many groups and observers have come forward to criticize it. The best thing you can do when deciding whether or not to send your charitable donations to Invisible Children is to do as much research as you can.