The real reason Kony 2012 fizzled — and why it matters

After the viral explosion of Kony 2012, the “Cover the Night” event that followed was a little disappointing, and widely labeled as a “fizzle.” (See coverage of that here and here.)

I’m guessing the “fizzled” Kony events amounted to more activity than most nonprofits will ever manage to field. But it’s true they seem a disappointment in comparison to the video that preceded them.

There have been lot of hypotheses floated for the fizzle, except for the one I think is the true cause: the brains of young people.

Fizzling is a hazard of anything you do that’s aimed at people under 30. Actually, it’s more than a hazard. It’s a virtual certainty.

Young people are driven by fads. They love to do things that “everyone” is doing. The very fact that something is big is a recommendation. So when something catches on and reaches a tipping point, it begins to generate its own energy. It can grow at unbelievable speed to incredible size. The Lance Armstrong Foundation Livestrong wristband is another example.

These fads can come like a tsunami — and disappear just as quickly. That’s the nature of fads, and the nature of motivation among young people. They can embrace an idea, a fashion, or a cause quickly and with passion — and move on to something else just as quickly.

This isn’t a moral shortcoming, and it’s not a lack of character or intelligence. It’s just how the young brain interacts with the world: Always seeking the new, and heavily influenced by what others are doing.

Older brains are different: Less eager to embrace new things. More connected to the things they know. Harder to get in the door, but easier to keep once they’re in.

A lot of nonprofits get bamboozled by this fundamental difference. Because most donors are older people, we can count on a certain level of loyalty and stick-to-itiveness. Then we see a tsunami like Kony 2012 and image getting numbers like that with old-people loyalty following.

It doesn’t happen. It can’t.

That’s not to say that the Kony 2012 boom and fizzle was a mistake. I’m sure the whole thing has been positive for that organization.

But nobody should look at youth-driven fads like that and imagine that somehow creating one of your own would lead to gazillions of donors who stick with you like the donors you have now.

(It’s also worth noting that creating a fad requires no small helping of luck, in addition to doing everything right.)


Comments

8 responses to “The real reason Kony 2012 fizzled — and why it matters”

  1. I would argue that Kony 2012 accomplished its main goal…to raise awareness of who Joseph Kony is and what he is responsible for. Beyond that anything else was gravy . Now hook those talented young tech savvy kids up with a talented agency with old people who just do what works again and again and they will accomplish their fundraising goals.

  2. I would argue that Kony 2012 accomplished its main goal…to raise awareness of who Joseph Kony is and what he is responsible for. Beyond that anything else was gravy . Now hook those talented young tech savvy kids up with a talented agency with old people who just do what works again and again and they will accomplish their fundraising goals.

  3. I agree with you. I’ve been operating with a “fad theory” for over 30 years. I wrote about it here: http://www.ronedmondson.com/2011/02/a-theory-speed-of-growth-determines-speed-of-decline.html

  4. I agree with you. I’ve been operating with a “fad theory” for over 30 years. I wrote about it here: http://www.ronedmondson.com/2011/02/a-theory-speed-of-growth-determines-speed-of-decline.html

  5. Adrian O'Flynn Avatar
    Adrian O’Flynn

    I really like your blog Jeff.
    I also agree with your points about tipping point and young people.
    But seriously, the person everyone associates with Kony 2012 was filmed running naked through the sunny streets of San Diego… The internet is the most transparent medium and the brains of young people picked up in this. Even before South Park dedicated an entire episode to poking fun at Jason Russell http://gawker.com/5901412/south-parks-response-to-jason-russell-penis-play-is-a-two-minute-ode-to-jackin-it-in-san-diego.

  6. Adrian O'Flynn Avatar
    Adrian O’Flynn

    I really like your blog Jeff.
    I also agree with your points about tipping point and young people.
    But seriously, the person everyone associates with Kony 2012 was filmed running naked through the sunny streets of San Diego… The internet is the most transparent medium and the brains of young people picked up in this. Even before South Park dedicated an entire episode to poking fun at Jason Russell http://gawker.com/5901412/south-parks-response-to-jason-russell-penis-play-is-a-two-minute-ode-to-jackin-it-in-san-diego.

  7. Jeff, I get what you’re saying. And, I don’t disagree. I just believe that there are additional things operating here. It’s a very complex story.
    Young adults want to be involved, truly involved, in the organizations they support. They don’t like bureaucracy. They don’t have patience. They demand results.
    If Cony 2012 fizzled, though I believe it achieved its primary objective of creating awareness, it might have lost momentum because of the personal failing of its leader, or not having adequate ways for people to engage more fully. Also, the organization’s objectives might have been vague and, therefore, its outcomes might have been difficult for people to evaluate.
    Like I said, it’s certainly a complex story.
    I want to take this opportunity to also point out that we need to be very careful to not assume that the general behavior of a population (i.e.: people under the age of 30) is indicative of all folks in that population. While you have not suggested otherwise, I still feel this is a point worth making.
    If we generalize and believe that all folks under 30 are fad-driven, we’d be likely to think of them as frivolous or fickle. And, we might ignore that population.
    However, I know a number of young adults who are anything but frivolous or fickle when it comes to philanthropy and charity work.
    I know one young woman who visited Nicaragua, saw a need, and started an after-school arts education program that is now a model for the country.
    I know of one young man who, while in college, saw the governments of the world doing little to prevent genocide. So, he started a nonprofit organization to explore ways to prevent, rather than merely react to, genocide. And, his organization is developing recommended policies for governments.
    I know of another young woman who has returned to her native Haiti to become the Country Director of an NGO that is trying to stimulate economic development in the island nation.
    These are just three examples of young people under the age of 30 who are focused, driven, and active. They have not followed the fads. They’ve identified needs and have taken action.
    If nonprofits want support from young adults, they need to better understand them. And, they need to be able to deal with young adults on their terms. It’s about being donor-centered.
    I write a fair amount about donor-centered fundraising on my blog: http://MichaelRosenSays.wordpress.com.

  8. Jeff, I get what you’re saying. And, I don’t disagree. I just believe that there are additional things operating here. It’s a very complex story.
    Young adults want to be involved, truly involved, in the organizations they support. They don’t like bureaucracy. They don’t have patience. They demand results.
    If Cony 2012 fizzled, though I believe it achieved its primary objective of creating awareness, it might have lost momentum because of the personal failing of its leader, or not having adequate ways for people to engage more fully. Also, the organization’s objectives might have been vague and, therefore, its outcomes might have been difficult for people to evaluate.
    Like I said, it’s certainly a complex story.
    I want to take this opportunity to also point out that we need to be very careful to not assume that the general behavior of a population (i.e.: people under the age of 30) is indicative of all folks in that population. While you have not suggested otherwise, I still feel this is a point worth making.
    If we generalize and believe that all folks under 30 are fad-driven, we’d be likely to think of them as frivolous or fickle. And, we might ignore that population.
    However, I know a number of young adults who are anything but frivolous or fickle when it comes to philanthropy and charity work.
    I know one young woman who visited Nicaragua, saw a need, and started an after-school arts education program that is now a model for the country.
    I know of one young man who, while in college, saw the governments of the world doing little to prevent genocide. So, he started a nonprofit organization to explore ways to prevent, rather than merely react to, genocide. And, his organization is developing recommended policies for governments.
    I know of another young woman who has returned to her native Haiti to become the Country Director of an NGO that is trying to stimulate economic development in the island nation.
    These are just three examples of young people under the age of 30 who are focused, driven, and active. They have not followed the fads. They’ve identified needs and have taken action.
    If nonprofits want support from young adults, they need to better understand them. And, they need to be able to deal with young adults on their terms. It’s about being donor-centered.
    I write a fair amount about donor-centered fundraising on my blog: http://MichaelRosenSays.wordpress.com.

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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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