It’s not often that one can dance one’s self into exhaustion while giving back to the community and supporting those in need. Jagathon, IUPUI’s premier charity function, has successfully done both for years and continues to expand.
For the unfamiliar, Jagathon is a springtime event where guests stay on their feet for 12 consecutive hours and dance for those who cannot. All proceeds benefit Riley Children’s Hospital. But anyone familiar with Jagathon knows it wasn’t always the behemoth it is today.
Jagathon began in 2003 as an event run by the IUPUI Student Foundation but did not receive its current levels of donations, attendance, and attention until after 2012. Four years ago, Pete Hunter took over as Director of Special Giving Programs. Soon after, he broke Jagathon off from the IUPUI Student Foundation to be its own entity. Jagathon still operates under the IU Foundation but is its own organization at IUPUI.
“To be honest, the [IUPUI] Student Foundation wasn’t doing anything effective outside of Jagathon, but by holding it as a subcommittee of the Student Foundation, it was kind of holding it back,” Hunter said. “Not letting it be it's own thing really held it back.”
After spending a year observing how Jagathon operated, Hunter overhauled the program in 2013. The first move was changing Jagathon from a fall event to a spring event Originally a six-hour event, the marathon now lasts 12 hours. Jagathon’s executive board has weekly meetings throughout the year between events instead.
“We transitioned into a spring event to give the event more time to breathe, to give people more time to plan, to have more time to work on it,” Darrell Pirtle, current president of Jagathon, said. “Not just the hours and the time of the year changed, the fundraiser has changed significantly and the interest in the Jagathon community has changed significantly.”
Last year, Jagathon had a 38-student-strong committee. The dance had 640 guests and raised about $100,900. This year, over 175 students sit on the committee. Over 850 people have already registered to dance--569 of those in just one day--and up to 1,000 people are expected to attend next Sunday.
Jagathon’s total funds have steadily risen since it was created in 2003. Between 2003 and 2011, the best year was 2011 and raised just $13,638. Since 2012, total funds have grown from just over $20,000 to over $100,000.
“Fundraising-wise, we’ve been pretty much doubling year on year,” Pirtle said.
The Jagathon formula is not unique to IUPUI. Universities across the nation have their own dance marathons to support local Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) hospitals. Riley is Indiana’s only CMN hospital, so all 16 Indiana colleges who donate to CMN send their money to Riley by default. About 300 collegiate dance marathons across the nation meet in the summer for the Dance Marathon Leadership Conference to swap ideas.
“We all pretty much, like, learn from each other. We all bounce ideas off each other across the country,” Pirtle said.
Miracle Week, though a common practice among other universities, is unprecedented at IUPUI. The week was set to encourage participation and beat previous fundraising records. For the first time ever, Jagathon was able to “take advantage of a larger, more dedicated, driven committee” and smash their self-imposed “24k1Day” challenge. Jagathon members were expected to raise about $100 each on Friday of Miracle Week but instead raised upwards of $400 to $500 per person.
“That was a huge part of our Miracle Week success,” Pirtle said. “Miracle Week was the first time we’ve been able to do anything like that in our history.”
The dance marathon itself is a celebration of a year of fundraising. Rather than give Riley relatively smaller donations throughout the year, funds collected by IUPUI organizations are presented to Riley as a yearly gift from the campus.
In order to maximize the final donation amount, IUPUI-based philanthropic organizations come together and help each other. Although there is a strong sense of competition, groups often share volunteers and spread awareness about events.
“We support their event, and they donate money to Riley,” Pirtle said.
However, student organizations with large donations have to choose to be a team or a sponsor. All the money ends up with Riley, but it’s a matter of a trophy or a logo on the T-shirt.
Jagathon does have major corporate sponsors. Regions Bank, which also sponsors IU and Purdue’s Riley benefitting organizations, placed red Riley buckets in 29 locations and raised $10,000 over the year.
As for managing finances, Jagathon strives to be transparent and efficient. A tight grip on expenditures and constant tracking of cash deposits and credit payments ensures that no cent is misattributed or misdelivered. Hunter approves of every expenditure and makes the cash deposits himself. Every receipt and deposit slip are stapled together and filed away.
“It’s one of my major responsibilities, to make sure that everything is in order and everything is exactly where it should be,” Hunter said. “When we held up the sign for 100,900-some-odd dollars last year, every dollar, every penny of that, went to Riley.”
Although a large portion of all donations are in cash, keeping track of who raised what in red Riley buckets is a bit of a challenge. Unlike online credit-based donations, which are tracked using a nonprofit software called Salesforce, cash raised in Riley buckets must be counted, deposited, and then attributed to whomever went out and collected it. Donor intent and keeping funds safe are some of Jagathon’s biggest priorities.
“That’s what the IU Foundation is built on. It’s basically saying, ‘we’re delivering a promise,’ and you’re entrusting your money to us based on that promise,” Hunter said.
Although no one knows what the future entails, there is a five-year plan to maximize donations to $1 million a year. Hunter looks forward to “scary good problems,” like having more guests than there is space to hold them.
“I firmly believe we will execute [the plan],” Hunter said. “We can put on an event, an experience for our students, that is on par with the very best in the country.”
“I really feel like we are turning a corner.”
To donate register for Jagathon or donate directly, click here.