INSIDE PHILANTHROPY | Events pay off for non-profits, students

For Emma Rhoads, a sophomore biology major, philanthropy changed her life. She never planned to go to medical school until she set foot in Riley Hospital for Children.

Signing up for Butler University Dance Marathon, Rhoads said, was the best decision of her college career.

“It was that epiphany [that] this is where I need to be,” Rhoads, who hopes to become a pediatrician, said. “I met families. I heard stories and just became so inspired and wanted to make a difference bigger than anything I ever expected.”

Rhoads is one of thousands of Butler students who participate in philanthropy each year. The university approached $300,000 in charitable fundraising in the 2010-11 academic year, according to figures compiled by The Collegian. Students appear set to do so again this year.

Although the university does not directly contribute to student philanthropies, a few receive budget supplements from the Student Government Association. Program Board provided budgets this year of $10,000 to Dance Marathon and $25,000 to Spring Sports Spectacular.  The allotments are drawn from mandatory student programming fees.

Rhoads, co-president of Dance Marathon, said the SGA support means everything to her organization.

“We wouldn’t be able to have our event without it,” she said. “Some schools don’t have sponsorship by the university, so they have to take the money from fundraising to host their actual event.”

Greek houses account for much of Butler’s philanthropic output. Campus fraternities and sororities consistently raise about $105,000 annually, Becky Druetzler, the director of Greek life who tracks the data, said.

Dance Marathon, however, is Butler’s most prolific benefit, Jon Himes, Program Board chair, said.

The 12-hour event raised $108,000 in January to aid children’s health, up $6,000 from 2011.

Relay for Life, run by a team of students in conjunction with the American Cancer Society, stands as the second-largest Butler philanthropy.  It collected $55,929 a year ago. The 2012 relay, scheduled to begin Friday at the Health and Recreation Complex, had raised $37,880 at press time.

Spring Sports Spectacular, the 200-event, late-night competition, raised $33,000 in March for the Special Olympics.  More than 1,500 students compete each year, Rachael Essig, a co-chair, said, making Spring Sports the top campus philanthropy in terms of participation.

Himes said surpassing a quarter of a million dollars in yearly charitable fundraising signifies the importance of philanthropy at Butler.

“The university understands it enriches the quality of student life,” Himes said. “There are so many different organizations, so many great organizations doing work. It shows we have a commitment to service.”

Butler itself maintains a partnership with the United Way, and faculty and staff raise money for that cause. But the university does not donate funds to student philanthropies, Greek or otherwise.
“I’m not going to say they should or shouldn’t,” Mitch Markel, a sophomore criminology major and chair of Tau Kappa Epsilon’s philanthropy committee, said. “The money definitely goes to a good cause if they would contribute.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Levester Johnson could not be reached for comment.

Rhoads said it’s actually rewarding that Dance Marathon, which finished its 10th year on campus, is independent from university giving.

“It’s nice to know we’re raising $100,000 just as students,” she said. “We’re the ones organizing it and running around and dedicating hours on end.”

The largest Greek philanthropy is Delta Delta Delta sorority’s letter-writing campaign, Sincerely Yours, for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It brings in more than $30,000 a year.

Trike-La-Tron, or TRIKE, recently completed its 49th year as Delta Tau Delta’s signature annual philanthropy. In partnership with the Riley Hospital for Children, TRIKE is the largest fraternity philanthropy at Butler.

“It’s been awesome to see the personal connection between our fraternity and the actual families that were affected,” Brad Vogelsmeier, a junior urban affairs major and co-chair of the TRIKE committee, said.

Vogelsmeier said TRIKE raised $16,000 this spring, with a few sources yet to report.

The oldest non-Greek philanthropy on campus is Spring Sports Spectacular, which has been around nearly two decades, Essig said.

She said the event, which runs from 5 p.m. to 6 a.m., holds a special place in campus culture.

“I feel everybody in the Greek community and even the campus in general looks forward to Spring Sports,” Essig said. “Philanthropy should always be in your life at some point.”

Essig said the best part of the philanthropy is interacting with children with special needs.

“There’s so much we can learn from them about what challenges they faced,” she said. “They still love the world and everybody in it. I think it’s just amazing to watch their perseverance to continue on in life.”

Druetzler said the overall scope of Butler’s philanthropic efforts is a testament to its students. She said the university must be careful, despite impressive statistics, to strike a balance between philanthropy and service.

Dean of student life Irene Stevens said Butler does not document non-Greek fundraising or service hours. Druetzler said service hours in Butler’s Greek community average 27,000 in an academic year.

Rhoads said just being involved in any fashion is invaluable to students.

“If you can be involved with your community at the collegiate level,” she said, “it’ll get you prepared to be involved with your career and even a family in the future.”