Today is November 1, which makes it the start of an annual movement in which men grow mustaches to help raise both money and awareness for men’s health issues, a/k/a, Movember. “Mo” is slang for mustache in Australia, where the movement began when a small group of guys competed in a mustache challenge in 2003. In 2007, Movember came stateside with a dedicated full-time staff working year-round on the effort, and in 2010, 450,000 global participants raised $81 million for men’s health causes by way of shaving, and then growing out, their facial hair for the month of November. On the kickoff of 2011’s mustache-growing season, we talked to Donny Killian, Movember’s U.S. country manager — “a very proud 4-year Mo Bro” who shaved at one minute after midnight last night and again this morning. “It’s been about 4 months since I’ve been clean-shaven,” he told us.
How did you get involved with Movember?
I received an email from a good friend in 2007 who was growing a mustache to raise awareness and funds for prostate cancer. He asked me to support him, and I did. He did a remarkable job, and also, he shared his journey of growing a mustache for 30 days. He got heckled in board meetings, and his kids asked him not to pick them up in their school carpool! In 2008 a team of buddies and I did it ourselves. We’ve all been affected by cancer in some shape or form, and it hit home…Then, in 2010, I was looking for a new career opportunity after 10 years in financial services, and this came up.
2007 was Movember’s first year in the U.S., right?
Yes. The guys in Australia in 2003 found that the conversation started by simply started by growing a mustache was amazing. There was nothing for men like the women’s movement as related to women’s health issues. Every year from 2004, there has been a men’s health tilt to Movember.
With more and more guys involved each year?
We’ve been growing, literally and figuratively, like a mustache. In 2003, there were 30 guys that participated in the mustache contest. Last year, there were over 450,000 participants globally, and Movember raised $81 million. The growth has been incredible. It’s grassroots, it’s viral, and it’s a ton of fun.
Does everyone in your office have a mustache?
[The men] mostly have mustaches throughout the year, to tell the story. A lot of them are shaving today — at any point today, it’s O.K. We just ask that you’re clean-shaven today. We’re going to various shave-down parties…[ed: There’s one at the Blind Barber tonight between 6 and 8 p.m.]
Tell us about the charitable aspect of Movember.
In each country where there’s a campaign there are beneficiary partners. In the U.S. we have two — the Prostate Foundation, founding catalytic research and improving prognostic and diagnostic tests, and also Livestrong, creating a program of survivorship. What we have sought to do is to help create services free of charge where people can get info, guidance, and direction.
How much of the money raised goes to charity?
Last year we put 83 cents of every dollar in the U.S. to the programs. We keep a small percentage for retention for the campaign going forward, and the rest goes to administration.
And how exactly do you campaign? I haven’t seen commercials…
Movember is unique. Our advertising and campaigning truly becomes the Mo Bros in the community who are changing their appearances and becoming walking, talking billboards for the cause. Most of the hundreds of events going on are put on by the communities. As for official events, we have two launch parties in October and the Movember galas at the end of the month, after people have put in their 30 days. The New York gala is at Roseland on December 2. It’s a big costume party.
Do you work with the American Mustache Institute?
They are proud supporters, and we appreciate the work they do. They put on a great event in Chicago recently. [AMI told us, “We are participating in Movember in spite of the biblical implications of shaving.”]
Movember is obviously just one month. What do you guys do the rest of the year?
At the end of the campaign, we start looking at the prior campaign, dissecting it, trying to figure out how to be better, and dealing with the finances and accounting of the business, making sure we have our ducks in a row, getting partnerships for the year running. We change our creative. Last year we introduced the modern gentleman, this year, we’ve taken the modern gentleman to the countryside.
Women can get involved in the effort, too?
Mo Sisters are 20 percent of community. They register on the site just like Mo Bros, and they support the men in their lives we’re trying to reach to let them know it’s important to take care of their health. anything that a Mo Bro can do, a Mo Sister can do…
Except growing a mustache…
Every woman has a father, uncle, brother, grandfather, who needs to know that it’s important to talk about health and not be afraid to go to the doctor. Historically, men tend not to focus on those things that are ailing them. If the women weren’t here to support efforts, it would be just a bunch of guys growing mustaches!
We have full 100-percent Mo Sister teams. It’s wonderful in the way that we support women in our lives in October [for breast cancer awareness], they come back to support us in November.
And, like you said, this is a grassroots cause, often community-based and localized…Are there any particular events New Yorkers should know about?
You can search on the site to find events. Anyone registered can find events in their community. Also, there’s the gala on December 2, which is free if you raise $100. You get 2 tickets for raising $200, and if you choose to buy a ticket and show up it’s $20.
More and more dudes are sporting facial hair these days (and there’s a growing mustache-acceptability, it seems). Do you think this is a good or bad thing in light of Movember?
I think back to that first journey of the 30 guys who’ve participated. For them it was about growing that mustache, and being able to have those conversations about why they were doing it. But we’re also proud people are accepting mustaches more. All the guys I know growing mustaches are doing it for Movember, but as it’s started to creep back into the culture, I hope those guys are participating, too.
I’ve seen 40-year-old mustaches shaved on November 1. That’s an emotional experience. I’ ve seen mustaches shaved by men whose kids have never seen them clean-shaven. In terms of reaching out to those who already have them, everyone’s invited to participate. We focus on these 30 days, and what you choose to do after is your personal choice.
If people miss out on the first day and don’t hear about this until, say, November 10, can they still take part?
They can still join and register. They’ll have a 20-day-old mustache, but that’s O.K.!
Stay tuned for reports from the front lines of Movember…and get in touch if you have a facial hair-growth story to share.
Go to Runnin’ Scared for all our latest news coverage.