Maintaining mo-mentum

By Alex Van Vliet 1 December 2014

It is 1 December and the nation’s pognophobes* breathe a sigh of relief. Workplaces, schools, universities and even the House of Commons are today rid of the annual invasion of moustaches.

Movember has been extraordinarily successful in a very short space of time. Beginning with 30 men in New Zealand in 2003, it is now active in 21 countries and engages a million participants, raising $136.6m (AUS) for men’s health charities last financial year. The campaign’s success is down to its blend of the traditional and modern. It takes a familiar fundraising proposition—a challenge, a defined timespan and the possibility of looking faintly ridiculous—and moulds it into a slick, well-designed package for the selfie generation.

There are signs, however, that its fundraising power has plateaued. Total funds raised in 2013 were down on 2012, and we perceive that its profile has suffered in 2014 from a glut of coincidental fundraising efforts. As the philosopher Julian Baggini noted over the weekend, in recent weeks we have had Band Aid 30, the DEC’s Ebola appeal, the Poppy Appeal and Children In Need. Today is World AIDS Day. Tomorrow is CAF’s Giving Tuesday. If compassion fatigue has set in for the public, can we blame them?

To borrow a line from the other great facial hair news story of 2014, it seems we have reached “peak mo”.

Perhaps we are to conclude that these big fundraising campaigns come with an in-built shelf life. They become part of the furniture—absorbed into the fabric of the fundraising cycle, with diminishing fanfare for their annual return. The Royal British Legion’s annual poppy campaign is now so well established that for a public figure to opt out is worthy of comment or, sometimes, victimisation. But the poppy was perhaps once itself a moustache and, galvanised by the centenary of World War I, it has had to reinvent itself to stay relevant.

Can Movember maintain its own mo-mentum, or will it be overtaken by some other newer, flashier model?

This year the disruptive new models of fundraising didn’t come from the established players, or any organisation at all. Instead, the biggest news stories in fundraising came from members of the public, disseminated and conducted by social media. The total funds raised by the ice bucket challenge (£48 million for MND alone) and #nomakeupselfie (£8m for Cancer Research UK) dwarf the officially-sanctioned fundraising campaigns run by charities. This is a radical decentralisation of the fundraising model, and like a bolt of lightening, one that cannot be manufactured or predicted.

For an organisation like NPC which advocates well-considered, thoughtful giving, these phenomenon are perhaps a challenge. It is not at all clear that the organisations who benefit from such windfalls represent the most pressing need in the voluntary sector, nor that the “awareness raising” lasts much longer than a pile of ice cubes on a sunny lawn. Instead, we should hope that the charities who benefit from lightening-strike funding should be as transparent as possible on how the funds will be used.

Happily, there are examples of this happening. The Teenage Cancer Trust published detailed information on how the £5million raised by the extraordinary efforts of Stephen Sutton would be spent. Movember publish report cards on the impact of their funded programmes. Through this sort of transparency, the public are in a better position to judge intelligently when is best to open their wallets–or, for that matter, to finally shave their upper lip.

* Those with a deeply-held fear of facial hair, obviously.