Is That A Caterpillar On Your Lip?

“Philanthrocapitalism and facial hair”, tweeted Ian Wilhelm of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, in response to Matthew’s (@mattbish) tweet that he is helping to judge moustaches at tonight’s Movember party at Capitale in New York. It may seem unlikely, but Movember, which, as Rachel Sklar puts it, involves “your gentlemen friends sprouting wantonly on their upper lips” each November to raise money for prostate cancer research, is actually a terrific case study of the power of philanthrocapitalism.

Movember began in Melbourne, Australia, in 2003 when Adam Garone and a few friends fancied growing moustaches, but did not want to suffer the inevitable mockery from their mates, so added a fundraising element. It is now probably the world’s largest non-government source of funds for research into prostate cancer, and is spreading unsightly facial hair across the globe, from neighbouring New Zealand to America, Britain and beyond.

Its success is a reminder that small scale giving by all of us can raise the sort of sums that can make a real difference – mass philanthrocapitalism as we call it in the paperback. It also highlights a couple of important trends: one is the growth of partnerships between mass charity, celanthropists and super-rich philanthropists. Movember has formed partnerships with Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation and with Michael Milken, the once-disgraced “junk bond king” who since his brush with death from prostate cancer in the early 1990s has masterminded through his foundation one of the most successful philanthrocapitalist assaults on a deadly disease ever seen. Garone says Milken takes a close interest in how Movember is getting on, and has been a great source of advice.

Movember is also an example of how smart philanthropy can tackle some of the huge inefficiencies in the non-profit world. Garone says that as Movember spread around the world it noticed that there was very little communication between scientists engaged in prostate cancer research in one country with their peers in other countries. As a result, there was much unnecessary duplication, and missed opportunities from failing to learn quickly about breakthroughs made abroad. Movember is the driving force behind a conference planned next year at which all the scientists it funds around the world will meet together to talk about their work – which could greatly increase their productivity in the fight against prostate cancer. Being an Australian organisation may have made it easier to make this happen, Garone says – as if Milken had called for such a global meeting, there might have been resentment at yet another example of American imperialism.

This is Movember’s most successful year yet, and deservedly so. Garone’s greatest worry, he confesses, is that the moustache might one day become the height of fashion, so that nobody would be inclined to give money to get someone to grow one. Happily, as tonight’s display of ludicrous face furniture is likely to make hilariously clear, there seems little chance of that!