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UI Dance Marathon Makes Magic

Dance Marathon. Just the name has a ring to it! So, what is it and why do students at the University of Iowa seem so obsessed? The main wonder of all that makes this nonprofit special is the sense of magic that is found within this organization and in the culture that is created within the organization that is Dance Marathon. But what is this magic exactly and how do other nonprofits also create it? Let us discuss.

When we think about fundraising and nonprofits, we think of service for the greater good. The goals of a nonprofit organization is to sustain a sense of urgency for change on a given issue to improve communities through service, outreach and fundraising. Although businesses also run to help communities, they run for profit and function in a different way than nonprofits. The difference with nonprofits is that they often depend on donations alone, usually with a larger goal for impact in each location that they reside in, and most of these services nonprofits try to provide are driven by social or political influences.

So how do nonprofits maintain their momentum like those in Dance Marathon solely on the support of the people they hope to impact, year after year by donation and support? By making magic.

To understand how an organization like UI Dance Marathon is able to operate to the magnitude that it does, we must first understand its history. Dance Marathon is 24 years old at the University of Iowa, and one of the first universities to adapt the nonprofit into its college culture for servicing the community. The UI Dance Marathon is the 3d largest Dance Marathon across the nation and helps to support over 900 families each year, which continues to grow as more families find support in the organization.

Dance Marathon is unique itself and is based off the larger operating umbrella of the Children’s Miracle networks’ larger focus on childhood cancer awareness and support. The organization raises money all year and creates events for families affected by childhood cancer for emotional support, specifically working with the local hospital at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Services that Dance Marathon provides is also very emotionally driven, as well as financial, which makes the organization unique.

Families have a student who keeps contact all year long during the season, called family reps and morale captains, and there are services provided families, like coverage of medical costs and treatments, and larger donations to the hospital, such as money for research that is gifted. Families all enjoy the services and events provided for free throughout the year, but the most influential is the "Big Event" in February. At this time, students involved in the organization dance for 24 hours (without sleep, sitting or caffeine) to help raise money and provide support to the families. Dance Marathon tries to keep people engaged on a multitude of levels, which all nonprofits can benefit from. And for more information on Dance Marathon’s history, take a look at the website.

So how does this community stay so enthralled with Dance Marathon and how does the organization make that special type of magic that you might feel at Disney World? Here are some key factors:

1.  Build a hierarchy of encouragers

Dance Marathon is often described as a magical environment, comparable to Disney in the sense of love and care that the organization provides. To create this passion within each person who helps with the nonprofit, there must be constant encouragement, not only for families, but the students who run the org too. UI Dance marathon runs on a hierarchy to stay organized. Each member has their own role in encouraging the next member, creating a sense of purpose, and therefore increased meaning within the nonprofit. From executive director, to director, to leadership committee member, to dancer, all are extremely important and rely on each other to stay focused and excited.

2.  Utilize the internet in the 21st century

Because Dance Marathon is run by students, this dynamic creates an increasing need for the use of the internet to help with marketing and outreach. Social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are all qualities that help to connect with all ages from all parts of the world in the most efficient way when searching for support or donations. In the UI Dance Marathon, members all have donation accounts that hold their fundraising donations, which is all online and makes it easier for people to reach out who otherwise couldn’t. Using technology can create more morale in creating meaning in the nonprofit because people can see how close members are to their goals and why they care.   

3. Find your “Why” and help others find it

To create a dynamic of magic that Dance Marathon creates, it’s important to start with the passion to be involved in the first place by each individual member. In all the of the organization, it’s critical that each individual member, no matter how involved they are, has their own reason “why." Why they got involved, why it matters to them and what drives them to help improve the organization and nonprofit in the future. This passion and motivaton helps to grow that passion, and spread not only to other members, but to those the organization impacts. By caring about childhood cancer in the UI Dance Marathon for example, the families feel cared for even more than by the events that are hosted for them in the first place, it comes from a deeper place in each members’ hearts.

4. Create a culture within a culture

Dance Marathon thrives because of the helping culture that has been created over the past 24 years. In Dance Marathon, specifically, there is particular “jargon” that has been established, numerous goals created and unending family stories that help to evolve the organization year after year, inhabiting a culture all of its own. "FTK," for example, stands for “for the kids,” referring to how all that is done in the group is done for children and to help make their lives better. Establishing a culture takes time, but once it is done, it helps make fundraising and donations easier, since the support is already there in the community and its sponsors within the community. With all this collaborative support, the magical meaning of the organization and why it continues to matter becomes inevitable.   

5Never lose sight

And most importantly, never lose sight on what is being fought for. With UI Dance Marathon we are trying to create tomorrow by dancing today, help kiddos battling life-threatening cancers and their families have the support they deserve to live a fulfilling and prosperous life. To do that within the organization, Dance Marathon tries to make it fun, safe and exciting for all ages, along with giving families another place to call home. So no matter your nonprofit, making magic is all down to the people who need magic the most. We’re on a mission to fight for remission for kids at UI DM, and we will continue until cancer is no more.

Find video and pictures on the DM website here or follow me, Melissa Trepa, on Facebook for more pictures. 






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