Is This the Secret for Fund-Raising in a Recession?

There’s been much talk about how philanthropies may be one of the greatest casualties of the recession. (Considering their various inefficiencies, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.) It’s hardly just the foundations who were invested with Bernie Madoff; donors simply have fewer discretionary dollars. (And, long-term, the picture may get bleaker if President Obama downsizes the charity deduction, as he wants.)

So what’s a philanthropy to do?

For more than 30 years, there’s been a student-run dance marathon at Penn State to raise money for the Four Diamonds Fund, which helps fight pediatric cancer. It is a 46-hour, no-sitting, no-sleeping event.

There was legitimate concern that the fund-raising total would fall off significantly this year. But it didn’t: for the fifth consecutive year, THON (as it’s known) broke the previous year’s total. The amount is truly amazing: $7,490,133.87, some $874,000 more than last year.

It can’t be an easy time to be a professional fund-raiser, so maybe the pros should take a lesson from the college kids and start throwing some dance marathons.

(Hat tip: Mitchell Foreman.)

Holt Chater

I am a big Miami Hurricane fan but when it comes to Thon Penn State is number one. Stand up and be proud students off PSU,I only wish the rest of the country could follow your lead. Thank you Jessalyn Schwartz for bringing the message to Florida for this great cause.I will be rooting for PSU to win all their games from now on !!!


#1 -"The key is mass participation of students collecting small amounts all over the northeast"

$7M / 700 participants = $10000 per person? Small amounts? Presumably there are a few people/businesses supplementing this effort with big donations? This is very impressive.


I graduated from Penn State in 2006 and my sister just danced last week at THON. I have seen firsthand how dedicated the students who organize THON are. The entire Greek community leaves State College four weekends every year to go "canning" and raise money. That being said, I do not think Veblen should be crucified for asking for disclosure when it comes to allocating the funds. I have wondered in the past exactly where the money was going and I've been to five Dance Marathons in the past 7 years and loved every second of it. I would assume that no one is undermining the hard work and love that goes into Thon. I think it's more of a question of The Four Diamonds Fund being hidden under the financial veil of Penn State.

I must say that the suggestion that Graham Spanier decided to expand his "building spree" to Hershey Medical Center is quite absurd. Every major University goes through expansion periods. Have you seen the work of the 1970's aka East Halls??

-Proud Alum and Sister!


Proud THON Moraler

For the past two years I have participated in THON and I can easily say that it is the greatest experience of my life. Being an economics major I had my doubts that we were going to beat our last years record of $6.6 million. But when those numbers started going up my heart stopped. There was a short pause and then the final number (the 7) went up and I jumped up screaming along with everyone else in the Bryce Jordan Center out of amazement. This is a reaction that I will never forget. I saw the total and thought of all the kids I spent time with over the weekend and their smiles. I absolutely recommend people coming the Penn State next February to see for themselves just how incredible THON is.

I bleed blue and white

I am a PROUD PSU alum, and boy does it bring me joy to hear about THON yet again breaking another record.

THON PSU, I heart u!

Susanne Abramowitz

My daughter is a sophmore at Penn State and participated for her second year in Thon. Last year she worked on the rules and regs committee and spent many, many hours at meetings and fund raisers. This year she started in October with her sorority sisters "canning". I had the wondeful opportunity to host a canning weekend. The girls were amazing and spent many hours outdoors raising money FTK. That weekend I was hooked. When my daughter told me she wanted to be a dancer she had my full support along with everyone who heard about Thon. I was extremely lucky to get to spend the weekend with her and the other 707 dancers at the Bryce Jordan Center. I can without a doubt say this was the best experience of my life. I cannot even begin to tell you how proud I was of her and everyone associated with Thon. If you have any doubt about the hard work and dedication of the 15,000 students that were involved with Thon check the videos and pictures on the Thon site. I will forever be a Penn State parent. FTK!


Joey- Hazleton THON Chair

This year, I had the honor of being the THON Chair at Penn State Hazleton. Besides all the money we raised this year and the national attention, I am proud to be a student leader of THON for what I and 15,000 of some of the greatest students in the world accomplish FOR THE KIDS! A lot of parents and students ask me why I chose to be THON Chair and why I do what I do, but words can truly not describe why, except that at the end of the day I take pride in the fact that all of my hard work and dedication is truly going to help save lives!

I do this and will continue to support THON after I graduate Penn State, not becsue I was told to, or becsue I can say I am a part of the largest student-run Philanthropy, or because it looks great on a resume, but I THON becsue I would be a terrible person if I didnt'! I THON for the kids who look forward to THON each year even more than their own birthdays, for those who are sick to even come, and those who have faught courageously, but their bodies were too weak to continue the fight.

For those of you who commented on here or know people who are "bashing" THON, I am not going to yell and scream and complain, but rather extend an invitation ot attend THON 2010 and many more, so that they may see the true magic of THON and be inspired themselves. To hell with having ot see a PSU Football game; each college student, before they graduate, should attend a Penn State Dance MaraTHON! THON is truly the thing I will miss the most after my days are through as a Penn State student!





If I understand the assumption you're making, you must have been misinformed. It is not 700 participants that raise the 7.5 million dollars. Those 700 participants represent about 350 student organizations that do the fund raising, and each organization typically gets to pick 2 dancers to represent them (a few get 4,6, or even 10). The actual fund raising is done by 15,000 student volunteers. So really, 7,000,000 / 15,0000 = 466.00, which is still probably more than the average student raises. It is really a combination of canning all over the north east, a huge letter writing campaign, and yes, some corporate donations, and we are very thankful for all sources. Again, ALL FUNDS are raised entirely by students. And don't forget, we dedicate months out of the year for no other benefit than to help kids with cancer.


Proud to be a Lion

In response to "Jason", you probably misunderstood. There are just over 700 dancers who represent hundreds of organizations. Not 700 participants. When all is said and done it's been said that 15,000 students help to raise money for THON. There are over 3,000 committee members alone who put in a lot of time and work for THON, and I'm proud to be one of them.



Sorry to also jump on your ignorance. But I'd like to comment on your telefundraiser comment. Lion line is a group of students who call alumni year round on behalf of academic programs at Penn State. Not THON. Some students choose to come in THON weekend to call for THON but this is not required.

The calling pool is alums that support THON or alums that were involved with THON during their time at Penn State. The awesome callers at Lion Line contribute about 100,000 dollars. Which is great! These efforts are clearly not the main contributor to the final total.

Believe me when I say it is the students who make THON happen. It is the students that have put the four diamonds fund in their hearts and work so very hard all year long to help make a difference in the life of a child.

THON on students and their supporters! What you do is truly amazing!




While there are 700 students "dancing" in the marathon, they are by no means the only ones raising funds. Typically, a student organization is represented by one or more dancer pairs; the more funds the organization raises, the more dancers pairs they are permitted to have. The real competition, though, is amongst the fraternities and sororities. The highest-fundraising fraternity/sorority pair this year raised over $300,000 by themselves. So while there are some larger-$$$ donors, a good chunk of the money is in fact raised by the thousands of students who go out and collect money in cans several weekends each year.


I stand by my characterization of THON as equivalent to a student telethon, but after reading all of the pro THON comments another characterization comes to mind:cult.

Stop blowing smoke and open your books.


It does not matter if your attitude toward this philanthropy is iconoclastic or idolatrous, one thing is for sure: this fund will always be there to help those who need it. Kudos to all of the Nittany Lions involved. THON ON!


As a Penn State Alumnus, I am proud of the amount of money THON raises each year and some what astounded at the total amount it has raised since the '70's. I do not, however, believe that it is in anyway contradictary to the principles and beliefs of THON to "open the books." For years there have been several Penn State professors who have asked to do just that, and have been denied repeatedly. I hope and think such an inquiry would only lead to the confirmation that everything is as expected. I have always wondered why anyone involved with THON would be so opposed to this.

As for THON being a cult, I think many people might agree with that assessment. I would go so far as to say other charities and service organizations on the University Park campus and the State College area are hurt by the yearly fevered frenzy that is THON. Although, I do not know of any cults that raise nearly as much money for pediatric cancer care and research.

I am interested in the post under this article relating to fraud. Are there concerns of this with THON? I do remember a number of years ago some people canning (a term used often in these posts which means to solicit donations in public areas often away from Penn State campuses and collecting the funds in coffee cans, thus the term canning) were caught having spent some of the donations. The incident was quickly swept under the rug, but it has always made me wonder about the possibility of fraud in THON. I know most people associated with THON would never even dream of this, but there are some less scrupulous people in every group (maybe even several in a group as large as 15,000).

Though it was a minor point in one post, the stimulus package does have 3 billion in science and technology grants and 40.8 billion in Health insurance, 20.2 billion in incentives to use technology in Medicare/Medicaid, and 89.7 billion in increases in Medicaid. I have to imagine some of that is going to pediatric cancer care or research. Not to mention the billions of dollars allocated for education that could be used for the Penn State College of Medicine, which in some instances would count.

Overall, 7 million dollars is an amazing feat and I congratulate all those involved.




What a weird thing for you to invest time and energy in- attempting to diminish the philanthropic efforts of students to support kids with cancer.

Clearly the students at Penn State have found a great use for their free time, and you have not.

Keep up the good work Penn State!


Cult ??
Maybe we should all join this cult, instead of the one that resides in Washington, DC . .
Vermin - you lost any credibility that you may have had with that dumb-ass comment


Let me make my self clear. THON is equivalent to a student telethon in that both harness student labor to raise money for a university. All of the talk about THON being the" world's largest student-run philanthropy" and how it raises money for the Four Diamonds Fund, another part of the University, obscures the basic fact that Penn State students are raising money for Penn State.

While THON may have begun as a grassroots organization, in the late seventies, when all of it proceeds were first dedicated to the Penn State run Four Diamonds Fund, it simply became an arm of the development office.

THON taking donations under Penn State's tax-exempt status may simply be a convenience , but there is no excuse for THON to use the University's opaque financial practices.

To read comments here, one might think that THON is the only charity dedicated to pediatric cancer, but THON is not unique in this regard. Go to GuideStar and type "pediatric cancer" into the search engine. There will be over 350 hits. All of these organizations file IRS Form 990's which can be viewed on GuideStar( You'll need a free registration.). Why do THON supporters think that THON is so special that it has no need for same financial transparency of these other charities?

Get off your high horses and do the right thing: open up your books.



Yo, veblen - if you think this money is going to the university and not the cause stated clearly, why don't you show some proof? Your facts are sure wrong. Four Diamonds is not run by the University and was not founded by the university. Not sure where you got that from. Yes, Hershey Medical is a Penn State hospital, but if all the money goes to the hospital to fund cancer research and help the families of the children who are patients, what's the problem? Why do you want to tear this down? These students do open their books, they've also chosen to open their hearts, which is something it seems you are lacking.

I don't go to Penn State and have not been to Thon, but I've done the reading to know what is fact and what is bunk. Veblen, go back and crawl under the rock you seen to live under.



I am a Donor Relations captain for THON and have worked with our "books". Every cent we raise goes to the Four Diamonds Fund, every cent.

The development office acts as a resource. They in no way are running the show, in no way! We are very strict about the student-run part in our name.

You really have no idea what you are talking about. The rock might be a good choice.


Many posters are obsessed with my assertion that THON is run by the University, but they then ignores the fact that THON does not file an IRS Form 990 because it isn't an independent charitable organization. No one has explained why THON if it isn't run by Penn State should not have to file a Form 990. It's not as if THON must derive its tax-exempt status from the school, for example, the Penn State Alumni Association is an independent charity and files a Form 990.

Further there are Dance Marathon's which truly are student run. You can take a look at the University of Michigan's Dance Marathon Form 990 and annual report here. Michigan sets high standard of transparency which Penn State does not come close to meeting.

THON can't have it both ways. It can hide behind the Penn State's skirts when it comes to financial disclosure on the one hand, and boast about being student run on the other.

Finally given the level of immaturity displayed here, I would hope that there is significant adult supervision of THON.