Men Grow Beards To Raise Money For Mental Health Association

Raising money for a non-profit organization can get a bit hairy- but for some employees of a small software company, their fundraising profits, along with their beards, just kept growing.

A marketing automation company, Signpost, sponsored a beard-growing fundraiser during the month of January and used social networking as its campaign tool to raise money for the Mental Health Association of Morris County.  Called “Manuary,” the campaign was adapted from the traditional fundraiser “Movember” in which men grow mustaches to raise awareness on men’s health issues.

For the 45 participating employees, Manuary was an enlightening experience to those growing beards for the first time, learning about the MHAMC and using a “cutting edge” fundraising technique through social media. While raising money was the main goal, increasing awareness about mental illness was just as paramount.

“Mental illness has a bad stigma in the community,” says Christopher DePatria, Signpost Vice President who initiated the fundraiser after witnessing how mental illness has affected one of his family members. “It’s more about the awareness. If we get 500 people to donate, it’s all about the cause. Fifteen people in Denver, 15 people in Austin raising money for Morris County (MHA) which is pretty cool. They’re all raising money and they are all supportive.”

With Signpost having offices in three major cities, New York, Denver and Austin, DePatria has been able to spread the word about mental illness and the importance of the MHAMC. With employees then spreading their cause through social media such as Facebook, twitter and linked in, the campaign grew even larger than ever anticipated.

After one month, participants had raised more than $10,000, twice the company’s goal. DePatria, 31, of Hoboken, immediately surpassed his individual $1,000 goal. “I got that just four hours of posting it,” says DePatria, who works in the NY office. He received donations from $10 to $300 from more than 98 people, raising $6,356 from his own posts.

DePatria decided to organize the fundraiser for the MHAMC after attending its charity golf outing in Sept. 2013. He wanted to help the organization generate greater awareness of the struggles of those with severe, persistent mental illness and the effect it has on the person, the family and the community. He brought the Manuary idea to his company in early Dec. 2013.

DePatria’s older brother who lives in Dover suffers from bipolar and schizophrenia. Their mother, who has been a volunteer with MHAMC, introduced them to the organization

“I realized how far a dollar can go,” says DePatria. “For me it was to raise money in a new unique way. It was all through social media. Rather than a dinner or golf outing, how about a more current fundraiser using social media? I thought it was a fun idea for guys to grow beards for the winter.”

So on Jan. 1, participating employees of Signpost shaved clean their beards and were not allowed to shave for an entire month. They then posted beards on Facebook and other social media networks to campaign for their cause. Out of its 100 employees, 45 of the male employees signed up.

Throughout the month, they posted weekly updated pictures on Facebook of their growing beards and dollars raised. In less than a week of its launch, the campaign received more than 125 donations totaling over $5,000. Total monies raised as of press time reached $10,855, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the MHAMC.

At the end of the campaign, female employees served as judges to award bear-growing employees with recognition, trophies and gift cards in categories such as Manimal Beard, Best in Show, Most Improved Beard, Longest Beard, Should Shave Immediately Beard

DePatria liked the idea of growing a beard because he says “It’s just something recognizable and visible.” During the month, when people came into the company to visit or interview, they could see that “everyone in the company has a beard. It’s very visible. It’s reason to talk about it.”

Talking about his brother’s disease had been hard for DePatria, he admits, but after learning about MHAMC he felt that raising awareness can only help people like his brother who do suffer from mental illness and are in need of services.

DePatria says his brother, who is 33 years old, did not have any signs of illness in high school. His symptoms developed in college when he was 20 years old. “It took years to be diagnosed,” says DePatria about his brother. “He realized college was too tough for him. He’s an intelligent, good hearted guy who just can’t function on a full-time basis. He’s a smart guy, especially with computers, but can’t hold a full-time job.” He suffers from social anxiety, acts differently each day and on some days is lacking the mental capacity to work.

“He needs money from the government to survive,” says DePatria

“The tone of the event may be light hearted and humorous, but the purpose is real and serious: to raise awareness of mental illness and how MHAMC and its many programs are necessary to provide the help that is so needed for this population,” says DePatria.

Nearly 58 million Americans age 18 and older, or one in four adults, experiences a mental health disorder in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Only 36 percent of adults with mental illness receive medical treatment within a 12-month period.

“There is hope and possibility of recovery for people with mental illnesses provided they accept therapeutic care,” says Lou Schwarcz, President and Chief Executive Officer of MHAMC.  We at the MHAMC promote this recovery through our many programs and services.”

While the MHAMC is no stranger to fundraising events and receiving donations from companies, the organization applauds the efforts of Signpost and hopes it serves as a platform for other companies to help raise awareness and provide financial support.

“I’m excited and amazed that these people are doing this,” says Barb Flynn, Director of Development at MHAMC. “They are young,” and are an amazing social media company raising money through technology, through social media platforms. “They are using their friends. That’s just great.”

Flynn mentions the “huge stigma” placed on families who feel self conscious about confronting the issues of mental illness with others. For DePatria to be willing to talk about mental illness with his company and “his company to be altruistic enough, especially in three cities, to talk about the stigma of mental illness- it’s a model, to be creative on ways to do it and to make it fun; the camaraderie. Here they are doing this wonderful thing and it’s fun and it’s really going to help people who deserve some help.”

Founded in 2010, Signpost is an internet start-up company that helps small to medium businesses advertise and attract customers through the internet and on-line advertising. Manuary was its first big fundraiser.

Although beards have been trimmed and maybe shaved off, donations are still being collected through www.crowdrise.com/signpostmanuary2014fundraiser.

The MHAMC plans to use the funds raised by Signpost to offset costs in its Social Programs. Founded in 1953, the MHAMC is a non-profit organization that promotes mental health, supports and empowers people in recovery from mental illness through effective services, education and advocacy.  Current services include information and referral, homeless outreach, supportive housing, consumer empowerment and disaster response.

For more information on MHAMC, or to host a fundraising campaign, contact Barb Flynn at (973) 334-3496 ext. 104 orbflynn@mhamorris.orgwww.mhamorris.org.

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Cheryl Conway

Cheryl Conway has been a freelance writer for the past 17 years, covering a wide range of topics filled with details. She has B.S. degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a minor in English. You can find her on Facebook

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