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UNC's Dance Marathon compares favorably with others

Online exclusive

With dozens of dance marathons taking place annually at schools nationwide, fund-raising tactics vary significantly, and success hinges on variables ranging from the unpredictable to the deliberate.

The UNC Dance Marathon, founded by Michael Bucy in 1998 made $40,000 in its inaugural year.

UNC's marathon raised more than $184,000 this year -- bringing the total donations to the For the Kids Fund, which benefits N.C. Children's Hospital, to more than $850,000.

About 600 dancers participated in the marathon, each of whom was required to secure $75 in funds.

One-third of the money from UNC's marathon comes from dancers, said business manager Judy Chang. The rest comes from corporate sponsors and events ranging from benefit concerts to bar nights.

While most years of UNC's marathon were marked by $20,000 to $30,000 increases in revenues, the 2004 marathon raised about $3,000 more than it had in the previous year.

Catherine McLaurin, publicity chairwoman, said it is hard to pinpoint the exact reason for the plateau.

"This kind of thing happens when an organization is still trying to establish itself," she said.

Some similarly aged marathons at other universities have faced related dilemmas.

Iowa State University's eighth marathon raised $139,000 for the Children's Hospital of Iowa and the Children's Miracle Network, the first time since 2000 that the organization was able increase funds by more than $5,000 from the previous year.

Brian Woods, co-director of the school's marathon, attributed the waning momentum they once experienced to increasing the minimum quota dancers had to meet.

"Last year, our dancers had to raise $300. We had a lot of people sign up, but on the actual day of the event, a lower number showed up."

To encourage participation this year, the marathon lowered the minimum to $200 and started an incentives program, which Woods said increased participants' excitement and, subsequently, fund-raising success.

Woods said a majority of their money comes from the dancers themselves. He credits them with more than $90,000 of January's total.

But some lucky marathons have never hit such a wall when it comes to growth.

The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor has managed to increase revenues significantly since it brought in $35,000 in 1998, its inaugural year.

In its 2004 marathon, dancers stayed on their feet for 30 hours, raising more than $250,000 and bringing its overall total to just under $1 million.

Steve Kren, internal director, said dancers are required to raise a minimum of $250, plus a registration fee of $35, and the organization never announces the actual number of dancers.

"We want everyone to feel a part of a team. We don't want to give people the impression that someone else will pick up the slack," he said.

Kren said that at Michigan, more than 70 percent of money comes from the dancers themselves, while sponsors and programs such as Cans for Kids add to the pile.

At the dance marathon at Rutgers University, Virginia Aul, associate director of finance, said dancers raise most of the marathon's revenues as well. Rutgers' first marathon was held in 1999 and earned $113,000 in goods, services and money.

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For most schools, the dance marathon to aspire to is Pennsylvania State University's 48-hour dance marathon, THON.

More than three decades old, THON is the oldest dance marathon and largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

"Our marathon is still very young," Aul said. "THON raised $4.1 million last weekend. We hope to get to that point in a few years."

Contact the Features Editor at features@unc.edu.