There’s one thing wrong with Kony 2012

People keep asking me what I think of Invisible Children‘s Kony 2012 video campaign. I think they’re hoping I’ll say something amusingly biting about it, maybe class it as a stupid nonprofit ad.

I’m not going to do that. Because it isn’t stupid. In fact, it’s brilliant.

Kony 2012 is not fundraising. It’s advocacy. If you look at it as a fundraising campaign, it’s not so great. You might even call it stupid. But that would be like being unhappy with your parakeet because he isn’t warm and furry, he can’t catch mice, and he seldom meows.

It’s good advocacy, not bad fundraising. It aims a non-fundraising message at a non-fundraising audience. And succeeds. Succeeds in a breathtaking, over-the-top way.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one problem: The noise it creates in our industry. Whenever a nonprofit pulls off something freakishly successful like this, there’s a groundswell: Development directors everywhere are saying Get me some o’ that Kony 2012. And watch the blogs in the next few weeks: You’ll be seeing a lot of variations on 7 steps to your own Kony 2012.

But here’s what they should think about first:


  1. To get the kind of viral spread Kony 2012 got, you must be willing to do what it takes. I don’t just mean having a cause that a lot of people can understand and get passionate about (though you need that), and I don’t only mean you have to have dramatic video, a compelling story, and be competent at reaching real people at the heart level (though without that, you’re sunk). If you really want to make a splash, you have to be as edgy, risky, and controversial as Invisible Children was. And that’s much more so than most nonprofits are willing to be. Note the criticism aimed at them in the past few days.
  2. Even if you get everything spot-on right — your message still might not go viral. In fact, it almost surely will not. That’s just a fact of life. Most viral videos never go viral.
  3. Most important, a viral advocacy message like Kony 2012
    It might not be the right thing for you. Getting millions of college students talking about your cause may do you no good whatsoever. In fact, it could hurt you big time, because it pulls you away from the things you really should be doing.

Bottom line: A lot of time and energy is going to be squandered on wishful thinking in the coming weeks.

The real solution to all your problems and path to your dreams is to focus on the basics. Connect with the donors you have. Find more who are like them. Make your message even more clear and compelling. You’ll miss this stuff if you chase the sexy but unattainable thrills of Kony 2012.

And a lot of people are going to take their eyes off the ball. It’s going to be expensive and painful. That’s the only problem with Kony 2012.

Okay, there’s one other thing about the campaign that makes me cringe, and I just have to get this off my chest: The way they’ve made “Kony 2012” look like a US campaign sign. Yikes! I have this sinking paranoid feeling that we’re going to see “Romney-Kony 2012” signs this fall.


Comments

2 responses to “There’s one thing wrong with Kony 2012”

  1. Brilliant post! Thank you so much, it makes me feel much better about what I’m doing. Honestly!

  2. Brilliant post! Thank you so much, it makes me feel much better about what I’m doing. Honestly!

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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