Penn State Thon has topped 2017 totals in its mission to support children fighting cancer.
The 2018 total — $10,151,663.93 — means the largest student run philanthropy has raised more than $157 million since 1973. The money goes to the Four Diamonds Fund. The number is about $106,000 more than 2017’s final count.
Thon has seemed to plateau in its fundraising totals in recent years after an average of $12.9 million raised from 2013 to 2015. The average raised since 2016 has been slightly under $10 million, but Thon Executive Director Andrew Smith said he hoped the total would not be the most important part of the weekend.
“I think one of the things I’ve always taken away from Thon weekend is that it’s not really about the total,” Smith said. “This is a celebration of life and a celebration of every child and family impacted by childhood cancer. I hope that’s what people take away. Whether we raise more than last year or we don’t, regardless of what happens, the money is one piece of it. The bigger and I feel more impactful part is celebrating the lives of those children and their family.”
There might be several factors that have played into lower annual totals in recent years.
Canning has been phased out with the final trip occurring in Sept. 2017, and Smith does not believe a single method of fundraising will “act as a silver bullet to make up for canning.” Eight fraternities have also been suspended by or lost recognition with Penn State since 2017.
“It’s possible (fraternity suspensions) have impacted the size of our volunteer base to an extent,” Smith said. “The majority of fraternity sorority members, if they were going to be involved with Thon, would do so through their fraternity or sorority. When one is suspended it’s a smaller percentage of their membership base that might look for another way to be involved. It’s safe to say when an organization does get suspended on campus it does have an impact on Thon, because it decreases our volunteer base.”
Smith said he doesn’t know if the disciplinary actions against the fraternities would have a monetary impact on Thon in 2018 or beyond.
Online solicitations will be integral to the future of fundraising for Thon, according to Smith who said the foundation was laid with Donor Drive. The new channel for donations enabled volunteers to share their stories about Thon with others online, which Thon leaders hope will generate greater donations.
“With this being the first year of Donor Drive, it’s really been a great addition to our fundraising model,” Smith said. “Previously our online fundraising efforts were outdated and the platform we used didn’t empower people to tell their personal stories and share why they’re involved with Thon. When you have the ability to do that, that’s what motivates other people to want to support Thon.”
The switch from canning and into online and alternative fundraisers, Smith said, would enable long-term sustainable growth.
“I think what’s more important is how we’ve been able to support and help families, how we’ve been able to help volunteers who will lead for years to come,” he said. “That’s all really important to me, to make sure every family knows we support them. The money aspect is fantastic, but it’s even more important to support them as people.”
Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli