By Steve Taggart
A slightly sniffy article in the Guardian last week declared that the fundraising campaign Movember’s growth cycle was in decline.
It claimed that last year UK Movember raised £3 million pounds less than the previous year and argued that many men now already sport some sort of facial hair.
But despite describing the campaign as ‘awful’ the Guardian conceded that often-ignored male health issues had benefitted hugely from a raised profile and millions of pounds.
If Movember started off as the lanky 70s throwback Decembeard is its hipster younger brother.
Conceived in 2011 when Chris Evans coined the term, announcing on his Radio 2 Breakfast Show that he’d be growing a Decembeard for bowel cancer, it took everyone by surprise.
“We asked supporters to join in,” says Beating Bowel Cancer’s fundraising director Graham Kelly, “and were amazed at the response.”
“That first year Decembeard raised over £15,000 for Beating Bowel Cancer, and since then Decembeard has enabled us to raise over £600k for the charity.”
And just as doomsayers are claiming we’ve reached peak beard, Graham explains how Decembeard is moving towards becoming a sustainable annual campaign.
“The campaign has grown year on year both in terms of number of participants and the amount of funds raised.
“In 2014, Decembeard raised £330k for Beating Bowel Cancer. This year our target is £500k and we are aiming to recruit 5,000 people to grow a beard and fundraise for the cause.
“As far as the Guardian article goes, to say most men have got facial hair is an exaggeration – perhaps in the world of the Guardian writer, but in the real world, not necessarily.
“Also, Decembeard and Movember are very different.
“Movember was hugely successful because to start with it was an in-joke. You were growing a moustache and looked untrendy and a bit odd but you were doing it for a great cause.
“And so as it gained momentum, people have ‘got it’ and so it’s not such an in-joke anymore because everyone’s doing it.
“Decembeard has a different feel, though, and because beards are more on-trend it’s not immediately obvious that you are participating in a charity campaign, and so we encourage people to talk about why they’re taking part.
“We’ve increased our focus on storytelling through a series of photographic stories called Me, My Beard and Why http://www.decembeard.org/gallery/. All of the people we’ve photographed have been affected by bowel cancer, and so through the photographs are able to tell their own inspirational stories to raise awareness of the disease.
“We’ve got a core constituency who have been affected by bowel cancer who get involved, and for them there’s a very personal connection.
“For example Colin Campbell, who was our top fundraiser in 2014. He was going through treatment for bowel cancer during Decembeard so people sponsored him very generously.
“We’re also acknowledging that many people do have beards, and recognise that many participants decide to keep their beard.
“This year we’re asking them to become beard ambassadors and to recruit others and lead a team of beard growers. http://www.decembeard.org/challenges/ So that gives us sustainability.
“We are still at the start of our journey; compared with Movember, Decembeard is still in its infancy and I’m sure will continue to evolve over time.”