In a few days, I will pile into the Dance Marathon tent with hundreds of other students to get my groove on for a potentially dangerous amount of time. While we have all raised $400 for nonprofit Team Joseph, which funds research on treatment and cures for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, to many, DM comes off more like just an excuse to party for 30 hours straight. And I will openly admit that I am doing DM mostly to check it off my Northwestern bucket list. The fact that it raises tons of money for a worthy cause is fantastic, but this is not really my reason for dancing.
In talking to students critical of DM, I have heard them use the mindsets of dancers like me to point out that many do not dance for the primary, philanthropic purpose of the event. They believe that charity shouldn’t need some incentive to sweeten the deal, but should be done without expecting anything in return, out of the goodness of your heart.
To them, I pose a question: do you like Girl Scout cookies?
Think about it; when we buy Girl Scout cookies in front of Whole Foods, or treat ourselves to any other bake sale pastry, are we really doing it to support that cause? I don’t know about you, but I do it because I’m stressed, and a sleeve of Thin Mints is just what the doctor ordered. The fact that I am being charitable in these cases is nice, but if they had just been sitting at those tables asking for money, I would have walked right by. It was the delicious, sugary incentive that got me to fork over the cash, and I don’t see anything wrong with that approach to fundraising.
Dance Marathon’s incentive is more sweaty than sweet, but it still brings the people in; over 1000 students participated in 2013. Some would usually not be interested in philanthropy at all, but when they see the chance to participate in a huge, exciting event with all their friends, they jump on it. So even if they’re doing it just for fun, they have still raised $400 for a cause that they would have never otherwise donated to.
Other dancers, like me, take an opposite approach. Although I am doing DM mostly for the experience, it’s not necessarily something that I would do just for the sake of it, especially if I had to pay to participate. But instead of just benefitting me, I can feel good knowing that the experience I am getting is also working for a cause. If someone had asked me to raise $400 for Team Joseph purely out of charity, I’m sure it would have tugged at my heartstrings, but without an incentive, I probably would not have been willing to commit.
On the other side, a large chunk of Dance Marathon’s total proceeds are raised through corporate sponsorships from both local, national and international companies. Based on how much they donate, which can range from $600 to $20,000, they can get benefits like advertisements on the DM website, promotional materials at the event and even sponsorship of an entire dance block. This is incentivized charity at its finest; the perks both give the company cheap advertising opportunities and allow them to look good by supporting a philanthropic cause.
If the goal of an event like Dance Marathon is to bring in as much funding as possible for its cause, then it makes sense to get everyone it can to contribute. Whether they are selfless individuals or people who care more about having fun doesn’t make a difference. Either way, last year Dance Marathon raised an enormous amount of money for a cause that needed that support, and this year they plan to do it again. If throwing a 30-hour dance blowout can make that happen, then I say party on.