Pros and cons of Thon

Posted by crosenbl on February 19, 2009 

You can admire Thon and still question some of its practices.

Apparently, that's too hard a concept for some angered by my colleague Anne Danahy's recent story that had the audacity to ask why Thon, except for a simple breakdown, refuses to reveal how the millions it raises are spent.

These thin-skinned supporters attacked Anne's motives, essentially accusing her of an anti-Thon bias, out to smear a wonderful charity. One even charged students in the last days before this weekend would have a harder time collecting donations from suddenly skeptical people.

We'll see. I'm guessing Thon will manage to overcome this wrench and top its fundraising from last year.

The larger point is Anne was doing her job. Her story was a professional, fair complement to the annual glowing coverage we give the 46-hour dance marathon. Each are appropriate.

Every year, we chronicle Thon from start to finish, giving the dancers, volunteers, children and their families the publicity they richly deserve.

I should know: I've been on the floor at Rec Hall, and now the Bryce Jordan Center, many times. I'll be there Friday night. I've seen the glowing eyes of awestruck kids being treated like royalty by dancers. I've felt the kinetic, almost spiritual giddiness coming from students united in exhaustion. And I've heard their collective joy as they dance through the final minutes, cheers and thumping music mixed into a heart-pounding soundtrack.

It's truly an unforgetable scene.

But it's not sacred.

When Thon fills an arena, when it collects $6.6 million, when it bills itself the largest student-run charity and draws national fame, it should expect some scrutiny. Especially in a recession, when contributions are harder to give.

Not that I believe anything is amiss, but look: If there's nothing to hide, why not prepare an annual report for the public. Use it for fundraising, like United Way agencies do. Just because it's not legally obligated to account for its money doesn't mean Thon shouldn't be as transparent as other nonprofit charities. Raising the issue — as reporters are supposed to — doesn't make you an enemy of sick children, or a troll squashing a charitable event, or a killjoy disparaging the work of young Good Samaritans.

It's too bad Thon, represented by a public university, adopts a knee-jerk, secretive attitude. "Proprietary," a Thon spokesperson called fundraising information, hiding behind legalese. Well, so are the hard-earned dollars Thon solicits — and donors should have something to base their decision on other than trust.

And it's a shame some in the community cling to a "with us or against us," stadium mentality that can't brook the slightest challenge. 

Thon is a wonderful event, full of love and joy. It makes a huge difference in the lives of thousands of brave children.

But nobody's perfect. 

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