Tuesday, March 18, 2008

THON: Do It For the Construction Trades

The Penn State Dance Marathon, aka THON, the self described largest student-run philanthropy in the world, is a sacrosanct institution for the hoards of the Nittany Weasel Nation. All the better for me to take closer look at the whole thing.

Some background. While it has been around since 1973, it has, starting in 1979, dedicated its proceeds to The Four Diamonds Fund. The Fund is dedicated to helping the victims of pediatric cancer and their families through financial, medical team, and research support.

Is THON even a student-run philanthropy or are students simply the workforce in a division of Old Main's fund raising apparatus? The answer is not clear, but there are indications that it is the latter.

The first thing to note is that THON is not registered as an independent charitable organization. When you make a donation to THON you use Penn State's tax-exempt identification number:24-6000-376. Hence the money disappears into the the Penn State information blackhole and since The Four Diamond Fund is also a part of the University, the money never sees the light of day again.

Is the money misused? There is no way of telling. But it is worth recalling how Old Main has been handling the donation to student groups and colleges.
Beginning this year, donations to colleges and student groups exceeding $5,000 will take a pit stop at the Office of University Development for 90 days while Penn State pockets the interest, a university official said.
And the University never told anyone about this scheme including the those donating the money. Imagine then what they might do with $6.6 million.

Another thing to note is that prior to 1999, THON gave the money they raised to The Four Diamonds Fund without any strings attached, but in that year they pledge $5 million in five years to establish a pediatric cancer center at Hershey. And this year they began to raise funds to construct a building for the center. Do you think they decided on their own to do this or do you think that the idea was put into their heads by Old Main?

And while they raise money to further Graham's building campaign, at the expense of research, they continue to sell THON via the kids. On THON's FAQs page here is how they describe the way that The Fund uses its money.
The Four Diamonds Fund allots over 92% of the proceeds from the Dance Marathon and other fundraising efforts straight to patients and their families.
That of course fineses the way that the money raised by THON has been used since 1999. I guess the slogan, "THON:Do if for the construction trades," didn't poll very well.

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