Is Kony 2012 a scam? The Invisible Children charity has come under heavy fire this week as it has drawn sudden and massive attention to its cause of ending the violent reign of Uganda's rebel warlord Joseph Kony with a viral video seeking donations.
No one disagrees that stopping Kony's Lord's Resistance Army from enslaving children as sex slaves and soldiers is a noble pursuit. But as Kony 2012, also known as Invisible Children, gains prominence after the group's release last week of the mega-hit video, a rising tide of criticism has followed, and it seems that the organization is not all that it's cracked up to be.
The Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator are two of the best impartial sources of information on charities and how they are 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 does not inspire trust.
A whole Reddit thread has been dedicated to the topic of the legitimacy of Kony 2012 as a charity, and there seems to be extensive evidence that money would better be spent elsewhere if one is looking to fund good works around the world. Huffington Post reported on an alleged instance of fraud related to an online voting drive.
There are always the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and other well-established organizations to donate to, any of which have high ratings and long histories of helping people in need. But in the same purview as Kony 2012 and Invisible Children, Charity Navigator has a list of other organizations with better track records and ratings that may be a better use of your money. They include the East Meets West Foundation, the Bishop Gassis Sudan Relief Fund, the Haitian Health Foundation, and Fonkoze USA.
Invisible Children went viral with a video released two weeks ago on Vimeo that eventually picked up more than 11 million views in two days after being tweeted out by celebs from Ryan Seacrest to Rihanna on Wednesday.
But the record of the group is anything but solid, as evidenced by The Council on Foreign Relations, which has critiqued Invisible Children and similar groups:
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.
So as always before donating your hard-earned dollars, please take a moment to educate yourself about your charity of choice. You don't want to throw your money away.