It began as a school fundraiser – now it’s a national fundraising initiative for the Cancer Council, raising $800,000 to date.

In 2015, a parent at St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School in Brisbane was diagnosed with breast cancer. Students Beth Flint, Meg Fraser, Maria Cobain and Annabelle Crossley were so moved to help, they launched a student-led fundraising initiative called ‘The Ponytail Project’, believing that cutting off their ponytails for charity was a small price to pay to support those impacted by cancer.

In its inaugural year, the Ponytail Project received an outpouring of support, fuelling the drive for an annual campaign. Sadly in 2016, St Margaret’s students had even more reason to support the initiative, experiencing the loss of a beloved teacher and past student Amanda Minotti, who passed away from cancer.

Each year, participation and funds raised have grown, with 129 students and eight staff from St Margaret’s cutting their hair this year. In August 2021, 137 ponytails were donated and a record $121,155 was raised through the school’s efforts, adding to a six-year tally that is nearing the half a million-dollar mark.

What’s the concept? Schools register, participants grow their hair and fundraise while they’re doing it and – when the big day arrives – they chop off their ponytail!

St Margaret’s students donate their ponytails to Real Fringe Hairbands for those who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment or alopecia, while funds raised have been distributed to Cancer Council Queensland and the Minotti Trust (established in support of the family of Amanda Minotti).

The Ponytail Project goes national

We hope what you’ve read so far gives you an indication of just how impactful school fundraising can be. And, as if the fundraising results weren’t enough to credit the amazing efforts of these determined students, the Ponytail Project was adopted by the Cancer Council in 2019, who have since taken the initiative nationwide, encouraging students and schools across the country to join the cause.

The school and the Cancer Council came to a formal memorandum of understanding that recognises St Margaret’s as the founders of the project, while giving the charity the opportunity to expand the concept across the country. “Our students are very excited that something which was student-led and came out of St Margaret’s is now reaping benefits for cancer sufferers across the nation,” says the school’s media officer, Pru Reed.

The Cancer Council have a dedicated site for the fundraiser, which encourages participants to #rockthechop, shares a results tally ($789,576 raised from 1,105 fundraisers and 12,185 donors to date), offers prizes as fundraising incentives, features salon partnerships, provides a large suite of print and social resources to help with fundraising, and includes FAQs and fundraising tips.

Cancer, like many illnesses, has taken a backseat to COVID-19 in recent times, but it is ever-present, with one in every two Australians diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85. An inarguably frightening statistic. So, on this note, we can’t see the need for the Ponytail Project diminishing anytime soon. And St Margaret’s plans to keep going, recognising both the community benefit and the difference it makes to their students.

“Each year, we see the girls motivated to give back and inspired to actively contribute in this most significant way,” says Principal, Ros Curtis.

“The act of cutting their own hair is tangible and enhances the girls’ gratitude. The Ponytail Project helps to develop students’ philanthropic mindset and inspires the girls to continue to give back to the communities in which they live and will one day work,” Ros said.

Cancer Council Queensland CEO Chris McMillan commended the students on their efforts and dedication to the cause.

“The Ponytail Project empowers students to make a change in the world by supporting people with cancer; people who have not had the choice to lose their hair while they go through treatment.”

To find out more about the Ponytail Project click here and to get inspired by St Margaret’s approach to school fundraising, click here.

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