In less than one month, over 100 physical activists, along with a 60 person road crew and thousands of virtual and “real life” supporters will come together to raise vital funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS and homelessness by completing BRAKING AIDS® Ride, a 285 mile, three-day journey from Boston to NYC.
This year, the riders will be joined by a familiar face — former Project Runway star and notable HIV activist Jack Mackenroth. Mackenroth came on board with the goal of raising $50,000 in just seven weeks. He’s documenting his journey for his thousands of social media followers – and rewarding donors with personalized “sexy selfies” on Instagram.
Jack Mackenroth is the co-creator of the multi-media anti-stigma and HIV testing initiative,“HIV Equal”. Before creating and designing the successful social media campaign, Jack was the national spokesperson for the HIV education campaign “Living Positive by Design” sponsored by Merck. Through this program and others, Mackenroth has a proven ability to effectively navigate the HIV/AIDS and LGBT media landscape in the US. He has appeared as the keynote speaker at national conferences, fundraisers and special HIV/AIDS related events. He became one of the most visible activists after disclosing his own HIV status on season four of Project Runway. For this reason Jack has since focused his energy on HIV advocacy and visibility, transitioning from a very successful career in fashion design.
We recently caught up with Mackenroth to learn more about his secrets for success:
Housing Works: How did you hear about BRAKING AIDS® Ride?
Jack Mackenroth: I’ve been familiar with the work of Housing Works and its thrift stores for many years and have developed a friendship with Andrew Greene, the SVP for Development and Marketing. I knew about the AIDS Ride but I was always intimidated because I’m not a cyclist. Andrew convinced me that I could do it and my boyfriend, Steve Alexander has done several similar rides and he has been extremely supportive as well.
HW: Although you’ve been a vocal HIV activist for years, you’ve never directly asked people for monetary donations. Why now?
JM: Honestly, it intimidated the hell out of me. Asking for money is a nuanced skill and it still makes me uncomfortable. But, for the most part, I’ve learned that people are generous and want to help if they can.
HW: Tell us about your unconventional approach to fundraising and raising awareness about the Ride?
JM: HAHA!! Well I figured I would capitalize on my assets in order to generate interest. I have cultivated a pretty massive social media following and I also used to be a fitness model. I figured I could combine those two things. So for any donor who gives more than $250 dollars, I will write their name or social media handle on my chest and post it all over my social media platforms giving them props for their donation. If someone gives $1,000, I’ll write their name on my behind. It’s also self propagating because people share the images which inspires others to follow suit. Every time I post a selfie with someone’s tag on my body I get a few more new donations immediately afterward. For those who may not want that type of visibility, I am also auctioning of the stunning red Martone bike (pictured). Every person who donates more than $100 dollars is automatically entered into a raffle to win the nike at the end of the fundraising period.
HW: With less than 4 weeks to reach your $50,000 goal (no pressure!) we have to ask; how’s fundraising going?
JM: It’s going well. I may have been a little ambitious with my goal but I figured a crazy number would push me to be aggressive and creative. I only started fundraising on July 14th and in 1 month I have raised $20,000 dollars. I have another large donor who is offering a match of up to $5000 this next week so hopefully that will bring in another $10,000 total. For my first ever fundraising effort I’m pretty proud of myself. If I don’t reach $50,000 dollars I will be pretty close and next year I will start earlier. My previous job did not allow me to commit until mid July so I got a pretty late start. Also remember—I’m trying to train simultaneously. I literally just purchased my road bike 2 weeks ago. So I’ve got a lot going on. :)
HW: You have over 500,000 highly engaged fans across your social media accounts, what’s your secret to social success?
JM: It’s a bit of a science. I change up the content a lot. Too much of anything tends to bore followers. Before I post something I think is it sexy, funny, controversial, heartwarming or just very interesting? Those are the items that get shared and retweeted and that’s how you build a following. No one wants to see what your meal looks like or what you are watching on TV. With BRAKING AIDS® Ride, I knew that if I overwhelmed my followers with constant, dry requests for donations that they would get turned off—so I figured out a way to make it fun.
HW: Of course you aren’t biking the 285 miles from Boston to NYC alone, you’re riding with your crew, The Mack Pack. Who are those guys?
JM: The Mack Pack is just a great group of 14 guys who are excited about the challenge and the cause. About half of them were friends of mine who just responded to my initial call out for team members and the other half are guys who were already doing the ride but were not affiliated with a team. Having a team supporting you makes the experience so much more fun.
HW: We follow you on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and see those sexy selfies. What’s your training regimen?
JM: Ha! Well right now it’s mainly cycling. I’ve been a competitive swimmer since I was 6 and I’ve been lifting weights for about 20 years. Believe me, I feel my weight (200 lbs) when I’m cycling up those hills. OUCH.