Another year of Thon means another millions of dollars raised to benefit children fighting cancer.
To some, the total, $10,045478.44, represents something more than a quantifiable figure.
“Whatever the total is, whether it’s $50 or $100 billion, I think it’s going to symbolize hope,” Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon Director Austin Sommerer told the CDT in early February.
Fittingly, the organization’s 2017 slogan is “Igniting Hope Within,” which has always been an intended purpose of Thon’s efforts.
Thon, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, raises money for children and families battling cancer through the Four Diamonds Fund.
How to raise the money and inspire hope, Sommerer said, has been an emphasis for Thon at a pivotal time.
The organization began to phase out the long-held tradition of canning in 2016 due, in part, to two volunteers dying in crashes going to and from canning destinations in recent years. There will be one last canning trip scheduled for September or October 2017.
But because canning had accounted for millions of dollars raised each year, the organization is looking for ways to evolve its fundraising methods.
“The big thing we’ve looked into is a new online giving platform,” Sommerer said. “As we grow and as giving turns to more of an online market, we need a platform that is able to support a new age of giving. People don’t write checks like they used and don’t go out as much as they used to. If we are able to create a great (online) base for them to give with a presentable website where they feel comfortable giving, I do feel that’s where more fundraising is going to come.”
Fundraising initiatives are also becoming more tailored to specific groups of volunteers.
The club cross-country team, Sommerer said, competed in Miles for Smiles, a 46-hour January relay event that raised more than $15,000.
At the heart of Thon, he said, is the inspiration of hope through personal support.
“We want to go a step beyond just supporting and want to create lifelong relationships during their tough times and after their battles,” he said. “Our family relations committee looks for ways to engage families through Four Diamonds and Thon. We want to look for new ways to show its a yearlong effort. Our special events committee looks hard to find engagement opportunities, too.”
Lifelong relationships are formed over time between volunteers and Thon families, he said, and those bonds are an important part of the organization that aren’t always in the public eye.
“I started off loving the cause, and I was involved in similar organizations as a child,” Sommerer said. “I got involved at Penn State, because it looked like fun, and I ended up loving the organization. Where else can you find anything else like this?”