4 nonprofit PR lessons from Movember

The movement has gained popularity online and internationally, raising money and awareness for men’s health. Here’s how you can make your efforts as successful.

Moustaches are growing in popularity, but during November, things can get especially hairy.

“Movember” is a nonprofit project in which guys grow moustaches (known as “mos”) throughout November to raise money and awareness to benefit men’s health.

When it began in 2003, Movember focused on prostate cancer, but participants and advocates have raised more than $526 million toward diabetes, testicular cancer, prostate cancer and mental health initiatives.

The project is active in 21 countries, and more than 5 million people—including women, medical researchers, athletes and celebrities—have gotten involved. Justin Coghlan, one of Movember’s four founders, said the project has stood out from other nonprofits’ efforts.

“We weren’t charity boys,” Coghlan says. “The four of us were surfers, skaters, entrepreneurs—we were kind of, almost the very non-charity guys.”

So, how did a group of guys with a passion for moustaches create a movement that’s changing the face of men’s health?

Here are four insights:

1. Focus on your audience.

Movember might take over social media conversation—and raise money doing it—but as with other nonprofit initiatives, it’s the people that matter.

“We don’t want to be known as the guys who raised $1 billion and nothing ever happened for change and effect,” Coghlan says. “That’s just not who we are.”

According to a survey, 99 percent of Movember participants in 2014 took action—many seeing a doctor. More than 75 percent spoke to someone about their health or encouraged someone to do the same.

Coghlan says the staffers behind Movember make sure their efforts are helping their audience through internal surveys and monitoring the stories that people share:

We had a kid who found us on Facebook, was doing Movember for fun, got into the testicular cancer piece, checked [and] had a lump, and we saved his life by five days.

PR pros can get overwhelmed by a project’s message and lose sight of the people they’re aiming to help. Coghlan suggests stepping back and examining the project’s objectives.

“What are you trying to achieve, whatever you’re doing, and why are you doing it? ” Coghlan asks.

2. Don’t tell stories; share them.

“It’s not about storytelling anymore,” Coghlan says. “People don’t want to be told a story; they want to share a story.”

Nonprofit PR and social media pros should focus on finding communities of passionate people who are telling their stories and find ways to share them with others interested in the initiative.

Don’t feel you have to share stories that tug people’s heartstrings in order to be heard, either. Coghlan says upbeat tales catch people’s interest and inspire them.

“Listen to your audience,” he says. “It depends on whom you’re going for, and you can’t be all things to all people. … If you’re talking to that particular audience, what story do they want to hear? What resonates with them?”

PR pros should also tailor those shared stories to each community. Movember’s messages to sports fans are pegged to that audience’s interests.

3. Choose your social media platforms wisely.

Coghlan says it took Movember’s team “ages to get on particular [social] platforms,” and the project doesn’t have a presence on every social network.

Likewise, nonprofit PR pros should carefully consider whether a platform will help you reach your audience—and whether you can effectively share your messages.

“Everyone in this online world tries to be all things to all people,” Coghlan says. If you fear you’re making that mistake, he gives the following advice:

Don’t take on new platforms [just] because they’re there. Wait. Work out how your message fits in that platform. A lot of people panic, and say, “Oh, this is going to be the new biggest thing.” And it might be the new biggest thing ever out there, but it might not be to the audience that you’re pitching to, and it might be an absolute waste of time and money.

4. Connect with the right ambassadors.

The plethora of celebrities, athletes, researchers and other public figures who help produce and share Movember’s content and messages aren’t paid for their participation.

Coghlan says paying for celebrities and public figures to become your nonprofit’s brand ambassadors can make the effort seem “soulless,” especially when the people don’t believe in your cause or messages.

“I want people to actually do it because [the message] resonates, they love our brand and they have a voice in it,” he says.

Don’t rely on just one advocate. When selecting nonprofit ambassadors, Coghlan says, PR pros should look beyond follower numbers and find sincere people who have an active audience that also cares about your message.

Help your advocates tell their stories and participate in ways that make sense to both your brand and theirs. “If it’s not authentic, you shouldn’t do it,” Coghlan says.

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