Zachary Moul organizes cans for organizations to pick up for the final canning weekend for THON on Thursday. Abby Drey
Zachary Moul organizes cans for organizations to pick up for the final canning weekend for THON on Thursday. Abby Drey

Penn State

Why Thon will end its most recognizable fundraiser

By Shawn Annarelli

September 21, 2017 07:55 PM

Vinny Carrano’s first canning weekend in 2011 was an opportunity for him to give back with Penn State Schuylkill, but it wouldn’t be long until there were signs the fundraiser would fall out of favor.

The campus raised more than $10,000 that fall weekend, according to Carrano, whose sister Lauren was a Thon child and died from acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 1996. The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon has continued to support the Carrano family.

This weekend will mark the last opportunity for volunteers to go canning, a fundraising effort Carrano said was influential in Thon’s growth and branding for several decades. Thon proceeds go to the Four Diamonds und to help fight childhood cancer.

“When people thought about Thon, they thought about the dance marathon or all those people standing out by the road on sidewalks or in front of stores with cans and signs,” he said. “It was imprinted in people’s minds, and it was a great away to spread awareness and raised tons and tons of money.”

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There would also be internal concerns on the horizon.

Volunteer Courtney O’Bryan died in a 2011 crash when she was returning to campus from a canning weekend. Canning fundraisers were reduced from four to three weekends the following year, each in the fall semester instead of through February. Canning totals also began to plateau in 2012 as online donations increased.

Penn State student Tally Sepot died in a 2015 crash after a canning weekend, and Thon leaders decided to phase out the fundraiser.

“I know a lot of people are sad to see canning go, and I love it, too,” Carrano said. “I love going out with everyone and spending the whole weekend together and the whole process. When organizations grow and times change, things within the organization also change. This is for the best interest of the student body, the families, Thon, Four Diamonds and Penn State. I know those in charge and making this decision are looking out for what’s best for what we have worked so hard to grow.”

New safety measures were also introduced in 2016 to increase volunteer safety for the final two years of canning, according to Thon Volunteer Safety Director Tim Miller, who said the organization continues to extend its deepest sympathy to the Sepot and O’Bryan families. The organization honors them with annual Tally Sepot and Courtney O’Bryan awards granted to members of the Thon community.

Thon’s current leadership have stuck by their predecessors.

“It is our hope that canning is remembered for everything that it has provided for the community: bonding, outreach and fundraising, as it was effective at all three for our organization,” Miller said. “While we recognize its value in these three areas, the executive committee and all of those leaders before us have been developing ways to alleviate the concerns surrounding the phase out of canning.”

Miller said the decision to phase out canning was made with volunteer safety being the top priority and also with a recognition that Thon could “be much more efficient and effective in fundraising by taking advantage of emerging online fundraising opportunities,” while hosting alternative in-person fundraisers.

Thon will also introduce Donor Drive, a peer-to-peer giving platform that “will significantly bolster our fundraising outreach opportunities and individualize organizational fundraising,” in the fall semester.

“Donor Drive has the potential to reshape the way Thon fundraises and empowers our volunteers to have a direct role in online fundraising,” Miller said.

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