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.)