Vivanista is a community that helps charitable organizations increase their awareness and effectiveness of charitable fundraising through sharing of best practices. A couple weeks ago, we ran an awesome Vivanista post on “do’s and don’ts” around getting press for your fundraiser. Today’s post focuses on “thon” fundraisers.

Almost everyone has participated in some form of “thon” fundraiser, whether as a donor, a volunteer, an organizer, or a participant. But did you know that the term walkathon dates back to the 1930s when it was used as a euphemism for dance-a-thons, which were often frowned upon? And while thon fundraisers have branched beyond simply walking and dancing, they still remain a mainstay in the fundraising world. However, large events such as these require countless volunteers, hours, donations, and dollars to earn a profit.

So why have thon fundraisers stood the test of time, despite their downsides?

The first piece of any thon fundraiser is a dedicated team of planners who have a vision for the event and, even more importantly, a heart for the cause. Thon fundraisers can support any cause, but planners must have a passion that can ignite and spread among participants. Whether raising money to cure breast cancer with Race for the Cure, fighting pediatric AIDS with Dance Marathon at UCLA, or supporting a sick staff member at a local high school, the key to success for any planning team is effectively communicating the relevance of the cause. In this way, participants and volunteers will feel a personal connection to the cause, even if they themselves don’t know anyone affected by the disease.

Next, any thon fundraiser obviously needs participants to walk, run, dance, read, jump rope, etc. As any previous participant knows, a fundraiser of this sort serves as motivation to get informed, fundraise, and stay involved even after the event is over. For those who have a personal desire to make a difference in a certain area but don’t know where to begin, a thon fundraiser can often be the perfect starting point. And for those who don’t have much direction in their fundraising goals, a thon fundraiser can open the door into the philanthropic world.

And for the donors who will support participants, thon fundraisers can give a face to a sometimes vague cause. Not many donors feel a sudden urge to pull out their checkbooks and donate to the American Cancer Society, but if someone they love is participating in Relay for Life, it may make the cause instantly relatable to their lives. Not only are they promoting good, but they are also supporting a loved one in reaching their goal. And in donors’ eyes, an official event lends legitimacy to any fundraising effort.

Lastly, thon fundraisers promote a sense of community, especially among beneficiaries. Sometimes it may be hard to visualize support when one only sees dollar amounts, but seeing thousands of people rallying together behind one cause is an undeniable morale boost for everyone involved. Whether planners, volunteers, participants, donors, or beneficiaries, the actual thon event can be the epiphany moment that makes the months of planning, fundraising, and training worthwhile. Because honestly, thon fundraisers are about a lot more than the final donation; they’re about bringing people together to support a cause.

So you want to throw your own thon fundraiser?

Don’t feel limited by traditional walkathons, jog-a-thons, or marathons. Consider dance marathons, jump rope marathons, read-a-thons, dog-walkathons, bike-a-thons, or even bowl-a-thons. With a little research, you will undoubtedly find people with similar interests and creative ideas. Plan a thon fundraiser, participate in one in your area, donate to a cause, or volunteer on the day of the event… In a walkathon, the first step makes the biggest difference.