The Millennial Giving Trap

Still image of Gavin Russell, son of Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, from the viral video Kony 2012

Three days ago Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the San Diego nonprofit Invisible Children will have just about tripled its 2011 revenue of $13.7 thanks to the über-famous viral Kony 2012 video. Chances are that if you are between the ages of 15 and 25, you have seen the 30-minute documentary YouTube video about the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. Created to rally support for Invisible Children’s campaign to arrest Kony, the video was made with the specific aim of capturing the attention of one select group of donors; Millennials. How exactly did Invisible Children capture the attention and, more importantly, the wallets of a generation?

I wish I could answer by saying that until Kony 2012 we had never seen such a grave situation requiring our attention. But let’s be honest, that is far from true. Why never before has a crises prompted such a slew of donations from this generation?

The Bloomgberg article points out several key factors that made Millennials the ultimate prey for Kony 2012:

1)     Kids are cute. Cute blond kids are adorable.

Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell “put his son Gavin in the film because, as Invisible Children’s director of idea development, Jedidiah Jenkins, explains, ‘if you want to get something watched online, you either have to put funny cats in it or little kids.’”

Seems like at least one non-profit cracked the code to YouTube. Congrats, Invisible Children.

2)     The internet is the pulse of Invisible Children. It’s also the pulse of Millennials.

“82 percent of [Invisible Children’s] funds are donated online, usually in small increments.”

This is an organization that already had huge traction on the web and knew how to target a base that uses the web as its main mode of … well, everything.

3)   The cause is “cool.” Millennials like cool.

“‘[Millennials] donate money without even thinking about where it’s going. They just assume they’re doing something good.’ When left unchecked, this indiscriminate giving can create a gold rush effect among charities as they clamor to become the cool new cause. ‘The game isn’t who can make the biggest difference or is fighting for the most important cause,’ says Ken Berger, CEO of the nonprofit-rating website Charity Navigator. ‘It’s he who has the best marketing wins.'”

As a Millennial, I find the success of the Kony 2012 campaign particularly frustrating. Regardless of the validity of the cause and the many controversies behind Invisible Children, I have a hard time swallowing just what the success of this video says about the minds of my own generation. I like to think us Millennials are more thoughtful, more concerned with the grand ideas of truth and honesty, but evidence like this shows that maybe we only feign the care and don’t use our minds nearly as much as we use our impulses. What I learn from the success of Kony 2012 is that Millennials easily fall for traps are just too simple.

Maybe if we take more time to think, dissect, and reassess we won’t fall for such traps. We should give it a shot.



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