They didn’t get Kony, but they did get your money…
2012 was the year that Invisible Children went pro. You remember the viral campaign, right? Kony 2012?
You should, because last year the outfit raised more than $32 million and they’re not too shy about admitting there’s been a bit of a windfall.
At June 30, they had $15.5 million in cash sitting around, up from $6 million the previous year, a slightly embarrassing amount they confirmed they didn’t know what to do with.
In a cutesy mock-handwritten addition to their accounts, they confirm there was a “significant increase of revenues” that the company - sorry, charity - was still figuring out how to manage.
“Not exactly the kind of decisions you want to rush through,” the handwritten comment says.
True, many businesses in the US are failing while others struggle with a lack of cash flow, and their African counterparts are still battling bribes, need microloans for essentials and a lack of infrastructure.
But Invisible Children has its heart in the right place, surely?
It may do, but it’s still figuring out where that place is.
In its bumper year, it spent $5.9 million on its protection and recovery programs - programs that in previous years were the organisation’s very soul.
Those programs were easily outgunned by the $7.1 million spent on “media” and “mobilization” - essentially, promoting and building its own brand.
And then there’s the slight shift in the charity’s governance.
Last year it held $1.1 million as “restricted net assets” - essentially, funds that were committed to a cause and could only be used for that cause, sort of like a trust fund.
This year they held only $121,540 restricted to a cause. Another $16.969 million could be spent without restriction.
That’s almost $17 million with no restrictions. It’s worth repeating.
Compare this to June 2009 when it held a mere $105,070 in unrestricted funds and $1.4 million in restricted funds.
This is when it laid the groundwork for its role as a professional fundraiser.
I’m not saying there’s anything nefarious here. Its administrative expenses are in keeping with what it needs to do and while it has benefited from product sales, it hasn’t lost control of the underlying costs.
But when a charity is sitting on a cash pile that it clearly is awkward about, when the bulk of its funds aren’t tied to an outcome, and when a large chunk of its activity was spent promoting its brand - well, that’s not really where I want to spend my money.
The sad part is, people already have.
It is now up to Invisible Children to prove they can back up their promises with real outcomes.
And, for the financial record, that doesn’t mean a bigger mobilisation for Kony 2013. We can just use the same t-shirts.
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