Three years ago, chapters of Mustaches for Kids (M4K) in the city of New York and Charlotte, North Carolina, elected to raise money for public school projects posted on DonorsChoose.org. Goldman, the stache behind the organization, characterizes the relationship as a perfect partnership." M4K is a group made up of guys who grow mustaches for childrens charities, and DonorsChoose.org connects chapters with schools and classrooms in need of support.
Chapters of M4K exist in cities across the United States. They consist of growers" -- men who are willing to appear bare-faced and grow a mustache from the ground up -- for charity. During the selected growing season" of about four weeks in length, the men seek support for their cause while patiently monitoring the development of their mustaches. A culminating stache bash" marks the end of the season, with growers donning appropriate costumes and judges choosing the sweetest stache" of the competition.
Pranav Saha of M4K Baltimore is one such motivated philanthropist. He first learned about M4K during a visit to New York in 2007.
A friend was wearing a Mustaches for Kids shirt, which just looked like another hipster shirt with a nonsensical theme. But he described the concept of M4K and his involvement with the New York chapter, I was left with one thought: "I have found my calling!" Saha recalls.With the help of dedicated friends, Saha established a Baltimore chapter in 2008. It directs fundraising efforts to DonorsChoose.org and has paid for new overhead projectors, a classroom set of microscopes, new reading rugs, new books, fans to cool hot classrooms, field trips to museums, and many, many more projects. In the first year, the group raised $24,500, which included about $15,000 in giving from local educational foundations. In 2009, the group garnered $26,000, predominantly through small donors, and impacted almost 10,000 Baltimore-area public school students.
With a silly name, zero budget, no history in Baltimore, and very few personal connections to the educational community, I expected this to be a small effort that would slowly grow over time, much like the slow, steady growth of a mustache," shared Saha. My aspiration for our first year was to raise $3,000 and have 20 people involved. Instead, we've raised an amazing amount of money and made incredible impact almost immediately. I've been amazed at how quickly the idea has caught on in Baltimore, how much press we have received, and how quickly we got connected with significant people in the educational community."
At a "'Stache Bash" in Boston, a grower is
One week before the first ever Shaving Day" in Baltimore -- the kickoff event when mustache growers gather minus their mustaches and beards -- a rumor circulated that Dr. Andres Alonso, CEO of the Baltimore City school system, had heard of the hairy endeavor. Not only did he attend to lend his support, he arrived sans the stylish beard he had sported since 1987, fully prepared to grow a mustache with the growers. By the end of the 2008 growing season, Dr. Alonso was the highest individual fundraiser in the nation.
It may not take a village to grow a mustache, says Saha, but it does take one to support a mustache-growing charity project. The success of this fundraiser depends on abundant early publicity and communication with friends and family, and he adds, a fair amount of public humiliation.
"It's important to start talking about the growing season early, because one month of time flies by when you're having fun with facial hair. Plus, you want the donors to be primed for when the fun starts," reports Saha. "Also, early planning of our final event, the 'stache bash, is critical. This is the big, costumed celebration at the end of the growing season to celebrate both our growers and the cause we've supported."
Boston growers" have a good deal of discretion with regard to the projects they support. Each one chooses the classroom projects that he will fund, and while most elect to stay within the state of Massachusetts, some have picked projects in other states or parts of the country. In the first season (2009), ten active growers raised about $14,000. From the notes of gratitude that he has received, Melcon says the impact of this labor of love has been significant.
For Melcon, the most poignant moment of the growing season" occurred during a business trip to Europe. He was a bit nervous about meeting with clients in Amsterdam. He hadnt mentioned the M4K project because he didnt know how well the concept would translate. Would the folks in Europe get" the idea of asking people to sponsor a mustache to raise money for kids?
Plus, at the two-week point my mustache was looking a little...creepy," admitted Melcon. My team met one of our clients for dinner the night before our meeting, and to my surprise, the first thing he asked me was, Are you doing Movember? I hadn't seen him for about five weeks, and it turned out that he had just finished participating in the Madrid chapter of Movember."
Movember is a worldwide charitable organization similar to M4K, but the growing season occurs each November, and the goal is to raise money to support research on cancers that affect men. Melcon was delighted, and no further explanation was necessary. In fact, over the lunch break on the next day, the client produced photos of his fully-stached Movember chapter.
Apparently helping people via facial hair is a universal concept," Melcon quipped.
He and Jon Cody Haines, a friend and co-organizer, set up the chapters Web site and locked down locations for weekly checkpoints well before the growing season began. Gathering together helps build camaraderie and draws attention to the organization.
Adds Melcon, People begin to ask questions when they see a large group of guys with mustaches hanging out together in a bar."
To maintain interest, he sent weekly messages to a mailing list of 150-200 acquaintances. The notices began right before the growing season and continued throughout the experience, updating friends about progress made with fundraising and facial hair. Melcon believes that many M4K supporters are drawn to the silliness of the endeavor, so sharing his weekly descriptions and mustache escapades entertains donors and gets them more invested in its success.
Getting involved with M4K has been a really great experience," he says, and I can't wait for our 2010 season, which is just a few months away."
Although each M4K chapter operates independently, Goldman encourages organizers to select DonorsChoose.org as their beneficiary. Fifteen to twenty chapters so far have chosen to do so, raising thousands of dollars for worthwhile school improvements and projects. Progress is tracked on the DonorsChoose.org page Mustaches for Kids by City. Some chapters employ Facebook and Twitter to spread news.
Grower recruitment is a world unto itself," Goldman told Education World. We're very word-of-mouth, and I've realized that there's a big gap between someone saying, Hey, that's a pretty fun idea (most people) versus, I'm totally doing that (fewer people). I used to try to really convince people to grow mustaches, and maybe I've gotten old and cynical, but now I think the best thing you can do is just make sure as many people know about it as possible and hope that the self-selected I'm totally doing that guys find out about it."
Proof of the programs fundraising appeal can be seen in the growing number of charity efforts that have a similar structure, says Goldman. While it can be frustrating that M4K is not always given credit as the first of this type of fundraising, at the end of the day, he is simply thankful that people are doing good and having fun.
Sometimes I get a little worked up that others are copying us, but most of the time, I'm happy that there's a way to mobilize a demographic (young men) that might not be known for philanthropy," Goldman added.
Article by Cara Bafile
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