11/27/2012 12:03 EST | Updated 01/27/2013 05:12 EST

What I Learned This Week: Charity Starts at Home


One more week and the month of November finally comes to an end.

Check that. Small typo.

I meant to type Movember, as the moustache-growing fundraiser for men's prostate and testicular cancers has hacked the calendar and has usurped the former 11th month of the year in attention, importance and ultimate positioning.

Not that there's anything wrong with this. Movember is one of those true win-wins; a marketer's dream in terms of awareness, and a financial windfall for men's health charities. Outstanding tell-tale visual symbol, too. In fact, in my office alone there were about a dozen guys outwardly flaunting their hairy upper lips (OK, just slightly hairier in some cases).

But here's the slight problem. I asked most of them if they've ever been checked for prostate cancer. The no's were unanimous.

Same thing for the handful of other encounters I had with the temporarily 'stached. It's one thing to raise money for a cause. But it's another to actually do something for it...or for yourself. Here's what I mean. In a stroke of brilliance, Montreal radio station 92.5 The Beat twisted the Movember movement to a stunningly simple logical -- and ultimately necessary -- conclusion.

Instead of just growing another moustache, morning man Cat Spencer last week offered male listeners the chance to win a free prostate exam at a local medical clinic (to be inclusive, co-host Sarah Bartok offered free mammograms to female listeners at the same time). What's more, Spencer actually underwent an exam himself and broadcast it live on-air from the event.

Compare this to the common radio promo drivel of having listeners do something trite or dopey to win concert tickets or a cheap T-shirt, or having shock jocks humiliating themselves or others in an attempt to pump ratings. Much kudos to The Beat.

Allow me to further my point by indulging in a personal tale. Last week, my wife and I invited 45 people into our home to hear the tale of Shea Emry, the Montreal Alouette All-Star middle-linebacker. Shea opened up honestly and painfully about his bouts with depression. The event was an awareness-raiser for AMI-Quebec (Action on Mental Illness), a group that attempts to de-stigmatize mental illness and act as a support for those affected by it in some way. My wife sits on its board of directors.

No great hoopla, no gimmicks, no talisman to wear, just eye-and-heart-opening talk to those who can benefit from it, or help pass the message. Nobody left unaffected or unaware of said message. (A previous AMI event starred Howie Mandel, but walked the same path. Rather than a "benefit concert" in which he performed his standard show to raise money for a cause, Howie told his personal story about dealing with OCD in a way that shocked and delighted the crowd, and initiated immediate action from those gathered as well.)

Now, I give a lot of money and a lot of time to charitable causes. Yet many times I find myself dressed up in some black tie ensemble, surrounded by dolled-up beautiful people at some luxurious venue, sipping champagne, nibbling on shrimp...and wondering "Just who/what am I raising money for tonight?" I'm sure the same goes for many who don the T-shirt, walk the walk-a-thon, wear the ribbon or bid at the auction. And even if you "get" the cause, what are you doing -- like The Beat -- to add relevance to your good deed?

Giving to charity is admirable. (In fact, as a Jew, the religion actually expects it of me.) But if you give without thought, without conviction, without understanding what you can REALLY do to help, what are you really giving?

My late mom used to always say that "Charity begins at home." Not literally in the house, but that it begins inside you. And her lesson was one I re-learned this week by listening to, and admiring the actions of Cat Spencer and Shea Emry.

So as Movember ends and the "official" Holiday season begins, don't just be part of a charitable cause. Let it be a part of you.