Mitch Goldman: In 2000 you founded the New York chapter of Mustaches for Kids and started growing a mustache for charity. When did you realize that what might have started as a bit of a lark had become a bit - a very little bit - of a phenomenon?
Jeff Mathews: In 2000 and 2001, the New York chapter of our little charity was really no more than a half-dozen people, all of whom were direct friends of either me or Mustaches for Kids founder "Big Al" Ewald. I wasn't sure we could build enough interest to hold a ridiculously-named charity Mustache-growing competition year after year. But in 2002, that was the first year that strangers - meaning people who weren't already buddies of mine from high school or college - got involved, and I thought we might be on to something.
We didn't really start to take off until 2003 though, when some newcomers got involved in helping to run the thing in New York (notably M4K-San Francisco founder Mitch Goldman).
MG: Hey, that's me! I agree that 2003 was a bit of a turning point. Heck, we got a web site! And the New Yorker article definitely got us some attention. But I think the key idea is what you said about strangers joining up. Once people outside our immediate circle of contact found out about M4K, I think we really started to grow (pardon the pun). Do you think the kind of person that's drawn to M4K is more interested in growing a mustache or more interested in raising money for charity?
JM: Ahh, that's a tough one. A little from column A, and a little from column B? One of our strengths is that our weekly checkpoints and the mustache competition are a lot of fun, so we tend to draw in people who otherwise wouldn't do anything charity. I think our volunteer "Growers" see this as an opportunity to be of service to their community, but also have a good time. And nobody has to run a marathon. Marathons are hard.
One of the amazing things to me about Mustaches for Kids is when you're explaining how the charity works to someone, some people are like "Wait, what? So you give mustaches to children?" and just don't seem to get it; yet other people are like "Oh, of course. Charity mustaches. That's brilliant," and totally get the whole thing right away.
MG: So how do you think we improve or clarify the concept? Or is it just the kind of thing that some people 'get' and others, well, don't?
JM: I think that problem is solving itself as Mustaches for Kids gets bigger and better each year. Part of the reason for our success is that our volunteers are forced to explain exactly what we do to so many people, because it does initially sound kind of weird. It's a lot easier to ask people for money after you've spent five minutes talking to them about how exactly it's going to be put to good use. And Mustaches are funny. There's no reason why doing something good can't also be fun.
MG: Apart from the fun, what's been the most rewarding part of organizing a Mustache-themed charity?
JM: I'd say a couple things. I've learned so much from doing this; about myself and my own strengths and weaknesses, how to organize a large group of people and tons of other skills with practical applications in real life. Everything from basic accounting, to some web design . . .
MG: . . . where to buy 300 discount t-shirts, organizing an increasingly enormous contact list . . .
JM: . . . and having the confidence to ask complete strangers for money. The other great part has been getting to know a whole bunch of awesome people - we've got guys who keep doing this, year after year - who are willing to give so much of their time and energy that I otherwise wouldn't have met at all.
MG: OK, so what's been the worst part?
JM: Explaining to my dad that while my mustache is hilariously unattractive, his mustache is very handsome.
This Saturday, 12/13, marks the end of the 2008 Mustaches for Kids National "Growing Season." So far, the group has raised over $200,000 nationally for DonorsChoose.org, and the New York chapter has raised $49,872 -- only dollars shy of their $50,000 goal set this year. They are sure to meet and surpass that goal -- probably by the end of the day!