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Is Movember Getting Overgrown?

• November 14, 2013 • 12:00 PM


Not quite, but after a few years of growth it might be time to shift the focus.

What if you started this cool little thing with your friends, and over the course of a decade it spiraled into a massive behemoth that was worth millions of dollars and responsible for the distribution of even more? That’s the story of Movember, the reason some dude you know is probably sporting some pretty hideous facial hair right now.

The Mo movement is maturing. In some of the more moustache-established countries like Australia and Canada, the goal is to maintain Movember’s place rather than to continue its torrid growth. (“You’re at peak mustache in Australia?” I jokingly asked Whiteside. “A country of 24 million people raised $23 million,” he responded, “so yeah.” Point taken.) Other campaigns, like some in Europe, continue to sprout faster than the whiskers on your face.

Movember made men’s health cool; the next step might be doing a bit more to push young men to actually be active in their own health.

The effort in the United States is somewhere in the middle of the pack. Here, Movember raised $21 million in 2012, up from $15 million the previous year. Of that, 83 percent went toward men’s health programs, while 11 percent was allocated to fundraising and administrative costs, and the remaining six percent went into a retention fund that’s dedicated “to cover future campaigns and to ensure the long-term continuity of the organization.”

In the U.S., Movember donates to three causes: the Livestrong Foundation, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, and its own Global Action Plan (GAP) program. I wondered about the effectiveness of those charities, so I asked Daniel Borochoff, president of CharityWatch, to examine Movember’s 2011 tax forms (the last ones available) for me. He said his organization gave both the Livestrong Foundation and the Prostate Cancer Foundation an A-minus. “It’s pretty comforting,” he said of the choices the Movember group made when it comes to giving out its cash. “I thought they were going to do something sneaky but actually it’s fairly clear-cut.” Taking in $15 million while spending only $1.4 million in fundraising is an excellent ratio. Clearly, it helps that a person’s face—a free but obvious advertisement—helps spread awareness.

ONE POTENTIAL ISSUE IS the GAP program, which is Movember’s homegrown “research collaboration initiative.” The idea seems admirable but perhaps a bit misguided. Raising money and giving it to accredited charities is one thing. Starting a program on your own is another, and one that requires an entirely different skill set. Why even bother when there are clearly dozens and even hundreds of charities around the globe that could do similar work? “I think the idea was that because we are a global organization, we’re in a unique position to leverage research on a global scale that other groups weren’t able to,” Whiteside said. “We thought we could make an impact on research. With GAP, we’re bringing together researchers and scientists from all over the world.” The organization’s site details the projects that are currently ongoing.

While I question how truly unique Movember’s global reach is—other men’s health charities are worldwide in scope as well—they do deserve credit for the transparency of their fundraising and distribution efforts. It’s simple to go on the site and find out where the funds end up and what (low) percentage is used for administrative tasks. They seem genuinely committed to staying lean and using the money they raise in smart, efficient, and effective ways. No organization like this is perfect, and Movember isn’t an exception, but they do a solid and commendable job. It’s not a bogus group aimed at making a select few founders rich while claiming to help the world. (The organization also gives report cards for all other projects, each of which focuses on one of four areas: aligned men’s health, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health.)

But it goes beyond money, too.

In a post on Refinery29, Anne Friedman argued that “it would be great to see the foundation require its participants to pledge not just to talk about men’s health and raise money for the cause, but to see the doctor for a general checkup themselves.” I asked Whiteside about whether he thought this would be a good idea, and he countered with some stats. According to a survey the organization conducted after the 2012 campaign, 70 percent of participants talk about men’s health issues, 57 percent recommend that someone else see a doctor, and 43 percent grew more aware and educated about the health risks they face.

That’s all good, but Friedman’s point is well-taken. A vague sense of increased “awareness” only goes so far. Movember made men’s health cool; the next step might be doing a bit more to push young men to actually be active in their own health. Still, their intentions are good. Their execution, so far, is as well. Not bad for a couple of guys who just wanted to grow some weird hair on their upper lips and maybe raise a few bucks in the process.

Noah Davis
Noah Davis is a writer living in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @noahedavis.

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