Topic: Student Affairs

February 14, 2016

Students will spend 12 hours participating in the Ball State University Dance Marathon on Feb. 20. The fundraiser aims to break last year's record by collecting $550,000 in donations.

Max Browning is aware his student organization is a victim of its own success.

For the past six years, Ball State University Dance Marathon (BSUDM) has seen its number of participants and the donations they collect skyrocket.

“That kind of growth was amazing, but at the same time, we also knew it wasn’t sustainable,” said Browning, a senior communication studies major and BSUDM president. “We made some great traditions during those years, but now we’re focused on being innovative about how we raise the money.”

BSUDM, Ball State’s largest student philanthropic event, involves more than 1,000 students participating in 12 hours’ worth of dancing, games and other entertainment for a great cause: Riley Hospital for Children.

This year’s Dance Marathon begins at 2 p.m. Feb. 20 in the Field Sports Building. Last year BSUDM raised half a million dollars for Riley. This year’s goal is $550,000. Whether it’s reached will be revealed to the crowd at 2 the next morning.

“It’s a big number,” admits Browning.

Last year was a close finish. At midnight, the group was still $19,000 short of its $500,000 goal.

“Even though a lot of our donor population was asleep, everyone made calls, and it got crazy for a while,” he said. “But we did it. Proof that miracles can happen.”

Lead-up events, alumni gala key to reaching the fundraising goal

Fundraising totals over time

Most of the recent changes for BSUDM have been to keep raising a six-figure total. For example, participants this year must pay a $100 entrance fee. “If students haven’t reached it before the marathon, we’ve set up ways to help them during it, including a call-a-thon,” said Kari Murphy, associate director of student life.

BSUDM also has introduced a series of smaller events, including a 5K and golf outing, to help students raise funds year-round. In addition, an alumni chapter of BSUDM held a gala dinner in January and raised $14,000, double last year’s amount.

Browning said, “With everything we do now leading up to Dance Marathon, we see the event as less of a fundraiser and more this huge celebration culminating in the grand reveal of what we’ve raised all year long.”

Strategic plan nationally recognized

As BSUDM’s president, Browning has focused on setting up the organization for future success, visiting several schools in the past year to examine how their Dance Marathon chapters operate and what BSUDM could learn from them.

Max Browning

For his efforts and the rest of BSUDM’s 23-member student executive board, Ball State was recognized in 2015 for having one of the best strategic plans of any Dance Marathon chapter in the country. Browning said, “I think the honor speaks to how we’ve been able to strengthen our operations in the past year.”

Nationwide, more than 450 colleges and high schools participate in Dance Marathon, all benefiting Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a nonprofit that provides funding to more than 170 U.S. children’s hospitals. The first Dance Marathon took place at Indiana University in 1991 in honor of Ryan White, who died of complications of AIDS the previous year.

Riley families love Ball State

As much as Dance Marathon is a special night for Ball State students, it’s every bit as important to the families of Riley children who travel from across the state to attend.

“Watching the total the students have raised increase has been incredible, but something that hasn’t changed has been the way Ball State students relate to Riley kids and their families,” said Jenny Deputy. Her daughter, Mickey, had heart surgery at Riley at 10 months old. At 7, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Thanks to her care at Riley, she is now a high school senior and considered cured.

Deputy loves seeing how BSUDM’s 350 committee members pass down their passion for Riley kids from class to class each year. “The Riley Relations Committee and Executive Committee get involved with families outside the event, which shows how much they truly care.”

‘A big, happy family reunion’

It’s this kind of compassion Murphy hopes all students take away from BSUDM. “Being healthy and in college, they understand the privileged position they’re in—how it allows them to be a part of something bigger, something that’s helping save kids’ lives.”

Donations from BSUDM fund Riley’s Magic Castle Cart, which distributes gifts to patients, and the palliative care program, which includes services for families facing the challenges of a life-limiting diagnosis.

Browning said knowing what good comes from the money Ball State students raise makes all the stress of planning and participating in Dance Marathon worth it. “The event itself is a high-energy day, and we have a lot of different things going to keep people on their feet for 12 hours straight.”

To break up the dancing, student bands perform, special guests—who in past years have included Colts players—take the stage, and Riley families share their stories. Vendor booths also will be set up, with proceeds from their goods going back to BSUDM.

While the night is one long party for students and Riley kids like Mickey Deputy, it’s also a welcome opportunity for Riley parents. “We don’t worry about our kids because we know the Ball State students are looking after them,” Jenny Deputy said. “So the parents spend time together, maybe going out for dinner, just enjoying being with others in the same boat. It’s like a big, happy family reunion every year.”