The Student Senate and Association of Student Alumni host an hour at Lehigh's second Dance Marathon on Nov. 8, 2014. One of the events during the hour included a fight song competition between sections of the room. (Chris Barry/B&W Staff)

The meaning behind the fundraiser: Dance Marathon executive board talks what it means to be ‘for the kids’

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For members of the Lehigh Dance Marathon executive board, the 10-hour event is the candy-colored culmination to a year of fundraising events, marketing and countless promotional cover photos on Facebook. It’s a celebration of the “miracle children” and their strength in the face of illness, and a time to spread awareness of the millions of children battling diseases every day.

So when the end of the night approaches and board members are gathering on stage to announce their fundraising total, the last thing they want to see is an empty dance floor.

“People can definitely be apathetic toward attending the whole event,” executive board president Jen Tomany, ’18, said. “That’s part of Lehigh. You have a solid number of people sign up, especially when they’re with a club or in Greek life. It’s having them stay for the whole entire event that we struggle with.”

Challenges with event retention and effectively conveying Dance Marathon’s message to participants have led to new changes for Lehigh’s 2016 Dance Marathon. Tomany said although other organizations are strongly advised against hosting social events on the evening of the event, participants still don’t remain for all 10 hours of the program.

“You get the bodies,” Tomany said. “But you want to know why they’re there. Like, ‘Do they want to be or do they have to?’ This year we want to make it the first one.”

New policies have been implemented in response to this with the aim of a more interactive experience for participants. Changing the order of the Dance Marathon schedule, including the addition of another “rave” hour midway through the event, are being added to keep attendee’s enthusiasm and participation up. This weekend, a promotional event will be held in Rathbone Hall to encourage participation from first-year students.

Tomany said reaching out to the first-year class has been a challenge in the past and targeting Lehigh’s youngest students has been a goal for this year.

This year, the executive board has also decided participants must raise a minimum of $75 before they can even enter the event.

Most dance marathons establish a minimum fundraising goal for its participants after a few years. For Tomany, the fact that Lehigh’s program was entering its fourth year without such a goal was something the executive board wanted to change.

“We’re not asking people to just pay $75 at the door,” Tomany said. “That would be crazy. This way we’re hoping people will actually take the time to go out and fundraise. You’d be surprised how much people are willing to donate to a cause like this.”

With a minimum goal required for entry, Tomany said she realized the number of people physically allowed into the event could potentially be lower than previous years. However, she feels the fundraising aspect of this year’s Dance Marathon will encourage participants to be proactive in learning about the intentions behind why the event is held.

Tomany said she hopes that Lehigh, with its 5,000-person student body, will be able to build off of the success of similar programs in the nearby area.

For Katie Altpeter, ’19, understanding the “why” was a major factor behind her high school’s highly successful mini-thon. Altpeter was involved with her dance marathon for all four years at Bethlehem Catholic High School, which is just one of several dance marathon programs in the Lehigh Valley.

At Bethlehem Catholic, the dance marathon program is partnered with Penn State’s, and the profits go toward the university’s larger event on its campus in the spring. The high school’s event lasts only 12 hours compared to Penn State’s 46-hour event. Despite a shorter event and an enrollment of only a little more than 700 students, the high school still managed to surpass its goal of $60,000 during its most recent dance marathon.

“From day one we’ve been learning about why the event matters,” said Nate Bennett, a Bethlehem Catholic senior involved with the school’s dance marathon board. “We want people to understand the event is for a higher reason than themselves.”

Altpeter said they had to get creative with their fundraising, going around to local businesses and creating a pamphlet about how organizations can benefit from supporting their event.

Tomany echoed the idea of personalizing the event this year to make it more relatable for members. More kickoff promotions have been added throughout the year, and events like a flash mob have helped spread the word. Still, she agreed with Altpeter and Bennett the most effective means of increasing participation stem from ensuring that participants understand exactly why they’re on their feet for 10 hours.

“At the end of the night you’re tired, but you need to look past you,” Tomany said in reference to the program’s motto of “for the kids.” “We say FTK for a reason.”

As of Sunday afternoon, Lehigh’s Dance Marathon has raised $28,643.10 toward its fundraising goal, with 801 participants and 41 teams registered. The event will begin at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 12 in Grace Hall and will last until 1 a.m.

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