March 13, 2012

5 advocacy lessons from the Kony 2012 video

Issues of storytelling, transparency & disclosure come to fore

Shonali BurkeThe big social media story of the year so far has been Invisible Children’s 30-minute film on Joseph Kony. I mean, you just couldn’t get away from it last week — 75 million views on YouTube and counting.

I was fascinated, not so much by the video, which I agree was beautifully produced, but by the amount of conversation it generated. So I talked to a few of my colleagues in the nonprofit world, all powerhouse professionals, to get their take on the video and the cultural hubbub that ensued.

And while much has already been written about the campaign, including this terrific Forbes piece on social media lessons, here are a few things nonprofit organizations should keep in mind when using digital media to further their causes:

You must let the truth get in the way of a good story

1One of the primary criticisms is that the Kony 2012 video doesn’t accurately represent the current state of affairs in Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army, not to mention the fact that warlord Joseph Kony hasn’t been in that country in a while. Invisible Children said that in order for the story to resonate, they had to simplify it, and basically admitted via the statement on their site that they left out a lot of detail:

“In our quest to garner wide public support of nuanced policy, Invisible Children has sought to explain the conflict in an easily understandable format, focusing on the core attributes of LRA leadership that infringe upon the most basic of human rights. In a 30-minute film, however, many nuances of the 26-year conflict are admittedly lost or overlooked.”

Yes, the story is complicated. But with the expert talent at their disposal, I have a hard time believing Invisible Children couldn’t have given a sense of history by date-stamping the different interviews and so on.

Beth Kanter agreed, saying, “I believe nonprofits, in a day of social media connectedness, really have to understand transparency and that they can’t get away with not being transparent.” Beth elaborated further on this in a recent post, reiterating that “for responsible social change, you need transparency.”

How much storytelling is too much storytelling?

2Kami Watson Huyse raised an interesting point: “It was clear to me that this video was a storytelling exercise, and stories by definition are personal and take a particular point of view. I was more concerned with his use of his own son’s reaction as part of the story.

“The truth is a matter of interpretation. I think that this video was designed to get people to act, not to be a realistic documentary.”

While I’m not a parent, I would imagine this would resonate with many of you who are. We’ve seen time and time again that good stories are those are easy to understand and that pull on your heartstrings. But do you really have to bring your kids into it?

From Beth on storytelling: “Successful messaging is compelling, visual, emotional and simple. Some highly effective online activists told me that one of their secrets is that their messaging is at sixth-grade level because that makes it clear and simple to understand. That’s a good thing to do.”

Kony 2012 did that in spades. But at what price? At what point does the story take over the agenda — or become the agenda? It goes back to being transparent – which pretty much everyone I asked agreed was key. Nancy Schwartz summed it up perfectly: “The end doesn’t justify the means.”

It’s tough to say no to kids

3I first heard about the video from my Johns Hopkins students. Granted, they’re not kids, but they’re exactly the demographic of young activist and activist-oriented people that the film was trying to reach. Beth said she first heard about it from her 12-year-old son. JD Lasica, my Socialbrite colleague, first heard about it from his 12-year-old son. (By the way, JD interviewed one of the founders of Invisible Children for Socialbrite in 2009.) Continue reading

November 4, 2009

The story behind Invisible Children

The story behind Invisible Children from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaLaren Poole came about his cause, Invisible Children, completely by accident. He and two friends were documenting the refugee situation in Sudan six years ago when they crossed the border into northern Uganda and came upon a completely different conflict they didn’t know about: kids who were being abducted by the thousands and forced to fight in the bush as child soldiers.

The makeshift filmmaking crew stayed for two months and released the documentary Invisible Children. From there, the movie evolved into a global movement and nonprofit organization that is using the transformative power of story to change lives.

In this short video interview, conducted at Social Capital Markets 2009 in San Francisco, Poole talks about the organization’s effort to get governments around the world to stop Joseph Kony, leader of the rebel movement in Uganda and “the world’s worst criminal,” in Poole’s words, from forcing thousands of children into armed conflict.

invisible children logoToward that end, Invisible Children has held a series of large rallies nationwide, organized a march on Washington, DC, and raised funds to build 10 high schools in Uganda. Throughout it all, they’ve used the tools of the Internet and social media to rally attention to the cause. “We’ve unleashed this young generation on this problem and documented what they’ve done about it,” he says.

One highlight of the awareness campaign came this past spring when Invisible Children staged a weeklong series of rescue events in 100 cities around the world. The crowds of mostly young people included 80,000 people in Chicago who stayed until, at the end, 500 hard-core supporters managed to earn Oprah Winfrey’s attention by camping outside her office building. “We held Oprah hostage,” Poole says, tongue in cheek, until she finally put them on her show on May 1.

Watch, embed or download the video interview on Vimeo Continue reading

October 19, 2009

8 tips for raising funds online

NPO panel

At BlogWorld Expo, tools and strategies for nonprofits

JD LasicaThe first Causes/Activism track at the just-ended Blogworld Expo in Las Vegas drew some 1,500 participants — a promising showing by the nonprofit community. I moderated the Tools for Nonprofit Organizations panel, with panelists Judy Chang of Paypal, Justin Perkins of Care2, David Levy of SocialVibe, James Sutandyo of Causecast and consultant Scott Henderson.

Here’s my Flickr photo set of BlogWorld Expo, about 60 photos in all. I also put together this Delicious tag — delicious.com/bwe09 — to aggregate many of the the services, tools and platforms that nonprofits and social change organizations can use to raise funds to advance their missions online.

About 100 people, chiefly from nonprofits small and large, attended our panel and you can follow what they tweeted about the session at #tools4npo

The panelists collectively came up with these recommendations:

8 tips for raising funds online

1. Make it a specific project, not for the overarching nonprofit or a general fund

2. Tell a compelling story with a strong human-interest angle

3. Create a feedback loop from the recipients to the donors to form an emotional bond

4. Have a hard stop — set a date to donate by

5. Pool your efforts by collaborating with reputable like-minded partners (including trading space in partners’ email newsletters)

6. Don’t pussyfoot around — have a clear and specific “ask” or call to action Continue reading