5 Lessons for Fundraisers From Kony 2012
By now, everyone in the fundraising sector is familiar with Invisible Children's Kony 2012 video, the ensuing controversy and questions over the organization, and the video response from the organization's CEO, Ben Keesey.
No matter what your thoughts are about the videos and the organization itself, there's no denying that there are some lessons to take away for fundraisers of all kinds, lessons that reinforce the best practices in the sector.
No. 1: Storytelling matters
Whether you feel the intentions of Invisible Children co-founder and filmmaker Jason Russell's film are pure or not, there's no denying the narrative for the organization is powerful. Russell used very real, personal stories of children in Uganda being abducted and forced into becoming soldiers or sex slaves, specifically focusing on his friend Jacob, who was abducted by the militia of Joseph Kony and forced into this life. He also does a great job helping the audience relate, using his own story and putting another emotional face on it by involving his son Gavin.
It's a moving narrative, one that engrosses the viewer in the video, tugs at the heartstrings, and makes you want to get involved in one form or another.
No. 2: Viral reach can be staggering
Thanks to the compelling narrative in the film, Kony 2012 became the most viral video the nonprofit sector has ever seen. To date, it has nearly 79 million views on YouTube in just a couple short weeks. The power of the Internet was on full display, as people shared the video rapidly with friends, family and acquaintances, whether it be through Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, whatever.
The main goal of an advocacy campaign is raising awareness to as many people as humanly possible. Kony 2012 has done that and then some, thanks in large part to the viral video that seemingly everyone you know has seen.
No. 3: Perception is reality
Once the video took off, lots of different entities began to explore Invisible Children itself. People wanted to know more about the organization's mission, its work and how it was all funded. This has led to some pretty harsh criticism from watchdogs, donors and even the people Invisible Children is missioned to help. A lot of that has to do with the financials of the organization, especially the amount of dollars spent on non-program expenses vs. money spent on direct program projects. That can lead to an unfavorable opinion in the eyes of donors, whether the organization's intentions are pure or not.
No. 4: Transparency is important
Increasingly, donors want to know where exactly their gifts are going. They want to see their gifts in action, know that they are delivering on the programs the organization solicited funds for, and helping the organization achieve its mission. That doesn't mean you can't use funds raised to pay for overhead costs — it means you must tell your donors of that need as well, and that some of their money will be used to help pay staff and cover other expenses vital to the organization.
Transparency is important. Donors do not like to feel mislead by an organization allocating funds to things they had no idea were in the equation. So tell your donors as much as you can about your organization, its financials, its costs, its work, how your donors can help and how their money will be used.
No. 5: Communication is key
Perhaps most importantly, the Kony 2012 scenario has emphasized just how vital communication is for an organization — both internally and externally. Invisible Children did a magnificent job communicating its story with the Kony 2012 video, one that reached tens of millions of people in lightning speed. It also struggled with criticisms and scrutiny because the organization didn't, in some people's eyes, communicate its structure and financials as well as it could have. And finally, the response video by Keesey was another example of strong communication, responding to the feedback it had received following the Internet explosion of Kony 2012. It was a good example of an organization listening to the conversations that were taking place about it and then responding in a way it felt was appropriate.
No matter what side of the fence you are on in regard to Invisible Children, there's no denying that there are strong lessons here for fundraisers everywhere.