Two charitably minded groups are fighting to get men to bring back the mustache in November, the month that has become the peak growing season for this unlikely word-of-mouth and sight-of-mouth movement. Both groups of facial-hair fundraisers want guys to ignore both fashion trends and the skepticism of significant others to sprout a 'stache for a month, the more absurd the better.
One group, named Movember, uses mustaches to raise money for prostate and testicular cancer research. The other group, Mustaches for Kids, targets children's charities and classrooms in need. The groups have assembled quite the follicle force: more than 200,000 men worldwide between the two groups are expected to participate this year.
The undisputed masters of the mustache movement are Movember, a group started in 2003 by a bet between several Australian friends who missed out on the mustache's brief golden age in the '70s and '80s, when icons like Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck sported impressive growth above their upper lip. They laid some ground-rules everyone started clean-shaven and had the entire month to grow the best mustache they could. They pledged to use the effort to raise funds for prostate cancer research.
That first group included Adam Garone, now the global CEO of Movember. Garone says the men quickly realized they had stumbled upon a serendipitous pairing. Women had October and the pink ribbon to represent the fight against breast cancer men could have November and the mustache. By the second year, Movember had 450 participants in Australia and raised $55,000 toward prostate cancer research. By 2008, Movember had more than 170,000 participants worldwide and had raised nearly $30 million for prostate and testicular cancer research.
The rules are largely unchanged from that first small competition. Participants ("Mo Bros", in the Movember lingo) organize as individuals or on teams to grow the best mustache they can during the month of November, raising money from sponsors. Movember has even invented a way for women to participate "Mo Sistas" support the cause and raise money on their own, with some sporting a mustache necklace (which consists of small mustache emblems available in a variety of colors and styles).
Garone says the mustache's retro appeal helps make Movember the ultimate viral campaign, dubbing the Mo Bros "walking billboards" for their cause. This allows the organization to operate on a razor-thin margin, spending next to no money on marketing. It's impressive considering the average age of the Movember participants is 31, an age group not known for being charitably inclined. "When you don't normally rock a mustache, people ask you about it and it opens up conversations," Garone says. "A large part [of our success] is through this incremental word of mouth."
Movember will be expanding into five more countries this year, giving the group growers in 10 countries, including the U.S. That gives it a big advantage over its smaller but scrappier rival, Mustaches for Kids, which began in Los Angeles in 1998 and now has about 1,000 members across the country.
"We're not even grassroots we're just the roots," says Mitch Goldman, 30, a graduate student from North Carolina who describes himself as the de facto head of the organization. Goldman says he has a "serious case of mustache envy" for Movember's organization and scale, but thinks there's room for his organization to grow too. "It's an open-source model I'd like us to have a toolkit where anyone who would like to do this could start a group," he says. Unlike Movember, Mustaches for Kids has 30 to 40 relatively autonomous chapters; each chooses which month to grow their mustaches in (many choose November) and takes responsibility for collecting and distributing funds raised.
Goldman says the decentralized approach gives local organizers a sense of ownership over their mustache-based efforts that might be lost in the scope of something like Movember. That philosophy is also reflected in the charity most chapters work with, a website called Donors Choose. The site lets local teachers post classroom projects that would otherwise go unfunded donors contribute to the most deserving requests. Goldman says this lets local chapters make a difference for kids directly in their community, rather than contributing to a more anonymous national organization.But Mustaches for Kids biggest advantage of all, Goldman claims, might be its name. "It just sounds nice," he says. "It's weird enough and memorable enough to stick."