I am happy to announce my first series, What Went Right. Every week (or so) I will discuss a new organization or venture that is doing it up right. Highlighting the good. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
This week’s What Went Right is the Invisible Children project. Invisible Children was started in 2003 by three young (think way early 20’s) filmmakers who traveled to Uganda and created a heart-wrenching documentary discussing the violence occurring in Northern Uganda and the horrible instances of kidnapping children in order to create soldiers for the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army). While I’ve been a fan of Invisible Children for awhile, my friend, Molly, has kept me updated on the going-ons of the organization.
Here’s what they did right:
- Started with Focus: As young as the founders were when they first went to Uganda (Laren Poole was only 19 at the time), they saw a problem that existed and focused on that one specific problem. In other words, they didn’t just go to Uganda and come back saying “there are poor people suffering from this war happening, let’s give them money.” Instead they pinpointed the issue that innocent children were being abducted and used as child soldiers.
- Kept it Simple: When Invisible Children first started they never thought they would make millions of dollars to “make it rain” in Uganda. Instead, they knew their own capabilities and did what they (as individuals) could do to make a difference. In this case, they picked up a video camera. That’s it. From that simple task they have affected thousands of lives.
- Created a clear mission: Once you become involved on any level with Invisible Children you understand their mission immediately and you never see them deter from it. Invisible Children wants to stop Joseph Kony and his Lord Resistance Army from creating violence and taking in child soldiers in Africa. The end.
- Clear Plan: Invisible Children has a plan to help stop Joseph Kony and once they succeed with one plan they move onto the next. They were key factors in passing the LRA Disarmanent and Northern Uganda Recovery Act in 2010 and now have a Tri Protection Plan that helps create Congo Early Warning Radio Networks.
- Factored in emotion: Invisible Children is as large as it is today because they got people to stop for just a moment to learn more about their cause. They did this through a documentary that was done so well it demanded people’s attention. This documentary created a huge buzz within America’s youth and essentially spread by itself by word of mouth.
- Targeted an audience: As an organization made up of young individuals it only made sense to focus on other young individuals. Invisible Children isn’t targeting large donors who are often above the age of 50, instead they realized how focusing on youth can best affect their organization.
- Made the war stylish: This may sound wrong, but Invisible Children made their issue a hip and cool thing to support. They’ve almost created a club. How did they do this? They kept up things new (new tours happen, they address new issues, new documentaries) and let’s face it, our youth loves new things. And they kept things well designed and edgy. The site intrigues people and gives of the right vibe that it is a fun organization addressing a serious issue. Their t-shirts are shirts you want to wear around, their products are ones that you want to buy as a present. These little things make people proud to talk about what they’re supporting.
- Receive money without asking for it: Especially as a New Yorker, I feel like everyone is always asking for money ALL the time. I am true believer that the best way to get money as a non-profit is to NOT ask for it. I mean, always give an option to ask for donations, but as Invisible Children demonstrates, you need people to first hear of your cause, to believe in it fully and then money will follow. Invisible Children covers these points fully. They understand that the most important way to make a difference is to spread the word. To make the issue apparent and important. When you go to the Invisible Children’s website or screening or event, they don’t first ask you to donate, instead they ask you to become involved.Right now, they are launching a campaign called “25”. On April 25th, they are asking you to “speak up without speaking” for 25 hours. After the silence, if you have raised at least $25 you can attend the “Break the Silence” event where you are able to attend a concert in your city. Already, they have over 25,000 people participating and have made over $420,000. They never once told anyone to donate, instead they asked for people to take a stand, and from that they were able to raise almost half a million dollars.
- Gave opportunities to the youth to make a difference: Invisible Children are known for their “Roadies”. In fact, there was a time I came really close to applying to become one. These Roadies travel around the country in a van showing screenings across the U.S. and getting the youth involved. Every group travels with a Ugandan who shares their stories at each stop. They go to colleges, concerts, homes, etc. It is an amazing and tough experience for many of these roadies. There are members of our youth today who are so passionate about the world and want to do something that makes a large impact. Invisible Children not only gives them this opportunity, but also shows the world that our youth can make a difference. This attracts young individuals to not only apply for Roadie positions but also inspires other young individuals to become involved in the project.
- They don’t rely on social media to spread the word: All you hear nowadays is Social Media, Social Media, Social Media. Don’t get me wrong, social media is a fantastic tool. However, I see many non-profits relying on Social Media as their only form of communication or advocacy. Yes, we are in the age of social media, but Invisible Children proves that it takes people in motion to make change. To advocate an issue, you cannot just sit in front of your computer and message people. Social Media is a tool, not an action.
I have only really touched upon what Invisible Children does right. Check out a screening near you of their newest documentary called Tony, visit their website or read more about the horrors of Joseph Kony and the LRA to find out why Invisible Children does what they do and how they do it so freakin’ right.