05 December, 2009

Mo’s and red noses chase charity dollars

Melbourne Herald Sun 5th December 2009

When my friend emailed me his photo it gave me a shock. Phillip had grown a big black moustache, and being of Greek descent he looked like some Balkan brigand rather than a mild-mannered corporate lawyer.

The reason, he explained, was Movember. He and many others in his firm had spent last month cultivating their lip-muffs in the aid of a charity, the Movember Foundation, established in Melbourne in 2004 to raise funds for Prostate Cancer Australia and Beyond Blue.

The idea has since spread around the world including the US, Canada and Ireland. It is claimed to have raised over $50 million in this time.

Now that’s a fast growth rate for a new charity in a world filled with good causes. It has all been done because of a gimmick and points out that a successful charity needs a smart angle.

It’s all about visibility, you have to be seen and remembered. Take Red Nose Day. Started in Britain in 1985 it came to Australia in 1988 where it has become a major fund-raiser, initially for SIDS and since then for a number of Australia-Pacific charities. In the US it puts on a huge telethon hosted by comedians like Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg.

One of the most successful gimmicks has been Pink Ribbon Month by the National Breast Cancer Foundation. First given out in New York City in 1991, the cloth slips have become a world-wide industry engaged with the likes of Estee Lauder, Avon, and a huge range of products that market themselves with ribbons in exchange for a licence fee.

This has in turn led to criticism. Some have said that the sea of pink has terrified women beyond the reality of breast cancer’s threat. Others have coined the term slacktivism - “the desire people have to do something good without getting out of their chair.” There are also unscrupulous companies that have snuck in to market “Pink Ribbon” products - with no return to the charity.

But all the criticism doesn’t get around the fact that gimmicks work. Daffodil Day for the Cancer Council was invented in Canada in the early 1980s and now has spread world-wide. In Australia alone it raises $8 million every August.

Jeans for Genes Day is when all the office workers go to town in their jeans and contribute to a charity for the Children’s Medical Research Institute. Another visible, simple, very successful gimmick. It was started in Dorset, UK, in 1996 where this year it raised some $6 million for the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London.

Our own Children’s Hospital relies on its Good Friday Appeal that, funny to say, was started in 1931 by a bunch of journalists from the Herald & Weekly Times, who organised a sporting carnival in aid of charity.

But of course the most famous and world-recognised charity symbol is the red poppy, adopted after World War I by the British Legion ex-servicemen’s charity and quickly picked up by the RSL and and equivalent organisations.

Taken from the poem In Flanders Field which described the red poppies growing amongst white crosses on the battleground that saw the deaths of so many young men, it remains a simple and vivid symbol for the charities.

So if you have a charity to promote, take out your poppy and daffodil, don your red nose and pink ribbon, finger your luxuriant moustache (women may be excused) and think of a brand new gimmick.


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