Kony 2012 and Charitable Giving as Part of an Estate Plan

Kony 2012 is the flavour du jour. We all know its basic premise: to make Joseph Kony, the corrupt leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group once present in Uganda, famous. If Kony becomes enough of a talking point, especially in Washington, it could bring about more U.S. involvement in the campaign for his capture and prosecution before the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands.

The Kony 2012 video, with almost 100,000,000 hits on YouTube, sends a powerful message. By its end, it’s hard to fight the urge to dig deep into your pockets and donate to the Kony cause. However, this Forbes article from the beginning of March can make you think twice about more than just giving fifty bucks to the movement – it considers the implications of including charitable contributions as part of your estate plan.

The article notes the immediate backlash concerning the legitimacy of the video’s efforts. There’s been questioning of Invisible Children’s (the NGO behind the video) spending tactics, support of military action, and neo-colonial approach to the issue. To make things worse, Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell got in trouble with the law mere weeks after the Kony 2012 video went viral. How can you support a movement when one of its main proponents seems unable to handle himself, let alone the logistics of the campaign?

The Forbes article also mentions Charity Navigator and GuideStar, two websites that, using respective sets of criteria, help you evaluate what charitable programs are most worthwhile to contribute to.

Here are some other ideas on how to ensure that you are making the right choice when it comes to picking a charity to include in your estate, and some guidance on how to incorporate these donations into your estate plan.

First, when it comes to selecting a charity it’s important to look beneath the surface and make an informed decision.  As the Kony 2012 story indicates, nonprofit websites and glossy fundraising brochures often hide stark facts that might make donors nervous.  Ratings systems, such as the ones mentioned above, are a great way for donors to dig deeper.

Another way to do this is to look directly at an organization’s IRS filings. The IRS recently increased filing requirements for nonprofits, requiring more organizations to file 990 forms.  These forms filed with the IRS are public record and give donors greater access to important funding-related considerations such as the organization’s mission statement, financial information, and information on the board of directors.

Our Nonprofit practice works with a variety of nonprofit organizations and private foundations on issues ranging from entity formation and obtaining 501(c)(3) status to nonprofit governance and due diligence on behalf of foundations.

Second—regardless of whether your estate plan includes charitable donations—it’s incredibly important to have well-contemplated estate planning documents in place.  As part of our Estates & Trusts practice, we work with clients to create wills, trusts for children, durable powers of attorney, and advanced directives.

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