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Before donating to Kony 2012, do your research

Courtesy of MCT

There are some things you should know before you hand over your money to Invisible Children for a trendy “Stop Kony” action kit.

It’s been difficult to avoid mention of Joseph Kony’s name over the past week. Kony has a history of enlisting children to help his Lord’s Resistance Army fight in Uganda, and when charity organization Invisible Children released a video on the issue, trying to make Kony “famous” so the U.S. would retain a special envoy in the nation, it blew up the Internet. The video had about 71 million views on YouTube as of Sunday.

Enlisting child soldiers is horrible. I don’t disagree with that. However, there are a lot of questions around Invisible Children’s campaign that raise eyebrows.

Invisible Children is a nonprofit organization that aims to end the use of child soldiers. A noble cause, for sure, and I won’t dispute that. However, the organization has a shady history with its revenue – one that people should be aware of before donating their time and money.

Charity Navigator, a watchdog group over similar charitable organizations, rates Invisible Children three stars out of four overall as a charity. That’s nothing heinous, but it only received two stars for accountability and transparency.

In the fiscal year ending June 2011, Invisible Children garnered nearly $13.8 million in revenue. However, the group spent about $8.9 million in 2011 on expenses, including compensation for the group’s highest-ranking officials and budgeting the production of the group’s films.

So, in reality, only about 32 percent of the group’s money goes toward charity. According to CharityWatch, another charity watchdog, donating 60 percent of your revenue to your cause is “satisfactory,” whereas donating 75 percent of your revenue is considered “highly efficient.”

This begs the question: Where is the money you’re giving them going? If you indeed paid $40 for the now-sold-out action kit and bracelet, and assuming the group’s spending habits hold true, fewer than $13 of your money will be going toward the campaign to stop Kony in Uganda.

The rest of that money would presumably be going to the group’s executives – CEO Ben Keesey made $88,241 in 2011, while co-founders Jason Russell and Laren Poole made $89,669 and $84,377, respectively – and making shiny YouTube videos.

That’s not all.

Many folks familiar with Uganda have spoken out about the campaign.

There is also speculation that Kony is no longer in Uganda, which raises a problem as Invisible Children’s money is going to the Ugandan army, which has teamed up with U.S. military advisers to find him.

Putting up posters, liking a Facebook status and using the “#stopkony” hashtag won’t do much, in all reality. This is a much more sophisticated issue than it seems. The Ugandan army is weak and obviously has never had the power to mount a legitimate effort against Kony in the decades-long battle with the LRA.

And how do you plan on fighting a man who enlists child soldiers? If it comes down to a military battle, children are surely likely to be injured and killed.

It might be trendy to tweet about and I’m sure everyone feels better about themselves for spreading awareness, but the reality of it is millions of people are being brainwashed by a video with a cute kid and sparkling production value that highly oversimplifies matters.

What Kony has done is an atrocity. That much is true. I’m truly glad society has turned off “Teen Mom” and Justin Bieber long enough to care about something that matters, but if you want to donate to a good cause, do your research first. Otherwise, this campaign comes off as not much more than another case of white man’s guilt.

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