How Movember lost its mojo
With the once-ubiquitous 'tache now increasingly rare, our reporter looks at the challenges charities face in finding a winning fundraising formula
They're calling it the 'tache crash'. Once the buzziest charity of them all, in recent years there has been a marked droop in the fundraising capacity of 'Movember', the campaign whereby men drum up money for cancer research by cultivating Magnum PI-style handlebars through November.
The figures are stark. In 2014 Movember Ireland generated just €1.4 million - a dip of €800,000 compared to 12 months previously. In the UK, the slide was precipitous too, at almost €5million.
With the current Movember campaign ongoing, it is too early to formulate a prediction for 2015 - and a spokesman for Movember Ireland pointed out that the majority of Movember-related events tended to happen in the final week of November, making informal tallies pointless (funds raised here go to the Irish Cancer Society).
"As it stands, Irish registrations look set to increase and we believe that a strong total will be achieved," he said.
"The Movember Foundation takes a realistic view that the fundraising and campaigning landscape is always changing and that in a competitive environment there will be some years that are stronger in fundraising than others."
Still, it is clear that those tell-tale Movember 'taches are comparatively rare, compared to recent years. 'Peak Movember' was reached in 2012, when the charity raised over ¤100million worldwide. Back then, it felt as if every second male acquaintance was sporting a moustache in the Christmas run-in. This is no longer the case.
Addressing the 2014 decline, Adam Garone, chief executive of the Movember Foundation, said the charity was an unintended victim of the rise in popularity of the "hipster" beard, as seen at your local independent coffee shop.
It's difficult, after all, to grow a charity moustache, if you opt for an ironically fuzzy face all year round. But he also referenced the rise of viral internet initiatives, such as the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Nobody can dispute that charity has become increasingly novelty-focused. The Ice Bucket Challenge, in aid of the previously obscure nervous system condition ALS, was followed by the No Make-Up Selfie and by the C*** In A Sock viral phenomenon, both generating monies for cancer studies.
"The risk that these viral campaigns bring is that some charities focus on trying to recreate the magic," says Jean O'Brien, founder of the Irish Charity Lab, a non-profit that helps build digital skills with the charity sector.
"Virals can't be forced. What's notable about both the Ice Bucket and No Make-Up Selfies is that they came from grassroots supporters, not the organisations themselves.
"There was a brief flurry after those campaigns of charities trying to start similar things, but fatigue is a big issue and people online are more inspired by new ideas rather than rehashes."
"You can't engineer something like an Ice Bucket Challenge," says Lucy Masterson, chief executive of Fundraising Ireland, who points out that charity 'brands' such as the Irish Cancer Society's Daffodil Day and the The Hospice Foundation Coffee Morning took many years and considerable investment to become established.
"Any fundraising department that sits down to manufacture an innovative, dynamic campaign that will take off spontaneously is wasting their precious time and energy. It doesn't work that way."
Others have wondered whether viral campaigns have the unintended consequence of trivialising the cause they are supporting.
"It's still not entirely clear how barefaced selfies and cancer connect," noted a Time magazine editorial. "The pairing of the two seems to imply that taking a selfie without make-up compares in bravery in some way to battling cancer."
There was backlash against the Ice Bucket Challenge, too, with sceptics pointing out that the entire point of the dare was to AVOID a charitable donation (and, yes, raise awareness of ALS).
A great number of those participating in the challenge didn't even mention ALS - and seemed at best vaguely aware why they were emptying a container of freezing water over themselves.
That said, these campaigns may be beneficial in the long term by conditioning the public to make micro-donations by text.
"Viral fundraising campaigns like the Ice Bucket Challenge are the charity equivalent of the lottery - transformative if you win it, but the odds are minuscule," says Jean O'Brien.
The benefit to the sector is in raising awareness of specific causes. The other big benefit is in getting people comfortable with giving small amounts through SMS donations.
Moreover, simply by raising awareness among men to the prevalence of cancer, Movemeber has achieved a great deal.
"Movember was designed specifically to get men involved," says charity consultant Gaby Murphy. "Traditionally, there was a much more female focus, with coffee mornings… a lot of it was female led. Movember was intended to get younger men, engaged, which it does extremely successfully."