In the media, it seems as if everything is negative. The news is depressing a majority of the time. Who wants to listen to what store got robbed or what building was on fire that morning? The Internet works in a similar fashion. Negative Internet action is what is usually publicized, such as cyber bullying. However, an article found while searching Internet communities helped me see a new side:
People are using the internet in thousands of different ways to collectively improve our world and they do so because socially conscious people understand they are part of a larger community and understand that for the community to thrive, everyone needs to contribute to the greater good.
The article mainly discussed local businesses and clubs, but it got me thinking. Nowadays, it seems more and more common for charities to implement social media platforms into their work, creating a new collaboration effort for their organization to thrive online. Personally, I have been invited to many of these online charity donation pages, for event such as American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life or Autism Speaks. However, the most prominent charity that brought itself to cyberspace and, in my opinion, uses online collaboration most effectively, is the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, more commonly referred to as THON. While the THON facilitates a real world, thriving community, it has a massive online presence, which is one the reasons it the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.
What is it about online collaboration that allows for such success in charity work? In our class, we discussed that connectedness is the new basis for communication. I find this to be nothing but true. I am constantly on my iPhone, whether it is for texting, Tweeting, Facebook messaging, Instagram surfing, or FaceTiming friends from other schools and areas. As our class blog pointed out,
“The medium is the environment that both facilitates and shapes the relationship between people (among other things). Being connected in the way that digital media facilitate means that every individual can potentially form relationships of one kind or another with everyone else connected through similar means.”
This is exactly what charity organizations, as well as any other virtual community, thrives off of. Once people find similar interests (in THON’s case, finding a cure for pediatric cancer), an opportunity arises to connect and form relationships with every other person involved in the community, no matter the distance. Students, all located at Penn State’s University Park, use the Internet to spread the word about their organization. Friends from around the world see these posts, and are immediately intrigued. Now, the community is not just Penn State students’ relationships. It is now students, their friends and family, and then the friends and family of those people, and so forth. It is a constant continuation of sharing throughout the Internet, which allows for people around the globe to collaborate, join forces (whether monetary or not), and work towards THON’s goal.
For those who don’t know what THON is (which is nearly impossible, if you’re friends with anyone from Penn State, they talk about it 24/7 and regard THON weekend as some type of holy experience, which will be discussed later), here’s some background. Like previously stated, THON’s goal is to “conquer pediatric cancer by providing outstanding emotional and financial support to the children, families, researchers, and staff of the Four Diamonds Fund”. (From the THON homepage) This fundraiser lasts the entire year, with its focal point event being Penn State’s 46-hour dance marathon (“THON Weekend” as the Happy Valley students call it).
As a basic point of reference, THON has set up a fantastic homepage to facilitate everything happening within the organization. It is here that community is informed about upcoming events, donations, and press releases in association with the charity. This is much better than the traditional method, which basically consisted of pamphlets and letters. If pamphlets were handed out at Fordham about Penn State, I guarantee that they would all end up buried on the bottom of backpacks underneath homework. The Internet is a place that can’t be escaped, especially Facebook. THON took to arguably the most popular form of social media, creating a kind of second homepage to its original organization page’s URL.
The THON Facebook page contains similar information to the THON website, but instead, provides collaboration tools that only social media can offer. For example, while the website simply offers information about the yearlong fundraising events, Facebook gives the feature of actually “attending” an event. All upcoming events are created in a type of invitation format. Viewers can RSVP as well as post on the event wall to offer opinions about the event and new ideas to help improve it. This doesn’t require back-and-forth phone calls between event coordinators; it’s visible online for all to see.
An additional feature is that “non-members” become members in this community. Basically, this means that people who aren’t directly involved with Penn State of the Four Diamond Fund can become an integral part of the THON community. For example, this is my friend Kristen’s Facebook status from February 16th, about a week and a half before this year’s THON weekend.
I am clearly not a Penn State student, but Kristen, as well as many other Penn State goers I know dragged me in to read about the cause. It is a quick, easy way to get the message out. One of the reasons I think THON’s online social media collaboration is so effective is because of its college-student run feature. Our generation, the millennials, is characterized as using social media and other online sources as our main source of news. Penn state students want support from other college students across the country, and there is no better way to reach them than what they know best (the Internet).
However, one complaint I do have about these online statuses and events is that it’s hard to see the true heartfelt emotion behind many of these charities. Why does Penn State “THON”? (I’ve learned from Kristen and many others that THON can in fact be a verb during marathon weekend). Penn State student writer Jillian Gordon gave me my answer, in an article whose title was my question. Why Is THON So Hard to Explain? is the non-Penn State affiliates guide to understanding this charity. I found this article from another Penn State friend’s Twitter. He linked this article in a Tweet, as well as the donation page for his charity. After reading, I understood what all of the fuss was about. I donated immediately, giving my small contribution to fundraise total of over $13 million for 2014.
This is exactly why online collaboration and connection is the best tool. If I had simply gotten a flyer in the mail or answered a phone call asking for donations, I probably wouldn’t have felt inclined to contribute. But this article was mass distributed; reaching audiences that wouldn’t have been reached before. This charity utilized their resources and was able to reap extreme benefits. Linking the article with the donation page on Twitter was a fantastic idea because it put a direct correlation between emotion and money in the readers’ minds.
THON’s $13 million+ broke records this year, earning spots on national news. ABC NEWS covered it, helping Penn Staters reach an audience that I don’t even know if they ever dreamed of. They hit national levels. When was the last time a college fundraiser earned national attention? The article highlights the story of one child patient, Brittany Wagner. According to the article, THON is spreading nation-wide, with elementary, middle, and high schools across the country hosting “mini-THONS” after being inspired by Penn State.
Online collaboration and the communities it facilitates is obviously a fascinating topic that produces fantastic things, music remixes being among my favorites. However, I think it is most important to step back and see what this type of technology does to better the world. THON’s online community is an integral building block to the organization’s success, leading to the success of finding a pediatric cancer cure.
Check it out: This year’s THON 2014 Recap (posted on 13 of my Facebook friends’ walls, I swear)