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The biggest campus philanthropy at UCF is on track to become one of the biggest campus philanthropies in the nation.

Fundraising is in full swing for Knight-Thon, UCF’s annual 20-hour dance marathon benefiting Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. The official goal is $820,000 by the end of the April 2016 event, and expectations are high to not only meet this goal, but exceed it.

Last year was Knight-Thon’s biggest year yet with a fundraising total of more than $688,000, a 57-percent increase from its 2014 total. Organizers said the immense fundraising bumped Knight-Thon from its spot as 12th-largest CMN dance marathon up to the seventh largest.

Knight-Thon event manager Alex Diaz said the executive board is cracking down on efforts to make this year’s weekend bigger and better than ever.

“Knight-Thon 2016 is about focusing on who we are as an organization, how we got to where we are and what we have to do to take Knight-Thon to the next level,” Diaz said. “As event manager, I have to continue to develop our event while never forgetting the Miracle Children and the cause that we stand for.”

In order to continue growing, Knight-Thon’s executive board is making changes to increase participation, not just among students, but outside the UCF undergraduate student body as well, said Nicole Ramirez, the event’s executive director.

“We’re placing a huge focus on alumni engagement and community outreach,” Ramirez said.

That initiative created a new executive position, alumni engagement director, to strengthen relations with graduates. Sophomore Amanda Marotta received the position and has been working in overdrive to maximize its impact.

“We’re building the alumni program through the use of our current collegiate dancers,” Marotta said. “Greek chapters and [registered student organizations], or all teams really, are reaching out to their alumni and encouraging them to come back to fundraise and participate.”

Marotta leads a team of coordinators that helps her organize alumni events, such as a group dinner that took place during Homecoming week at a local restaurant. For a $50 donation, each alumni received a drink and entrée combo, as well as exclusive Knight-Thon and Homecoming apparel.

“It was great to just get everyone together and share a meal all while benefiting Children’s Miracle Network,” Marotta said.

Next year will mark Knight-Thon’s 20th anniversary at UCF. Since its inception in the ’90s, Knight-Thon has raised more than $1.8 million for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

“We are so blessed to be in the top 10 of dance marathons, and I like to credit that to Executive Boards of Knight-Thon’s past,” Diaz said. “Everything they have done since 1996 to 1997 developed Knight-Thon into what it is now.”

Year-round fundraising means totals are constantly changing, so it’s difficult to definitively rank university dance marathons. That being said, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world is Penn State’s annual THON, a 48-hourlong dance marathon that takes place every February.

During its 2015 event, THON participants raised more than $13 million for pediatric cancer research and treatment. Since its inception in 1973, THON has garnered more than $100 million for the cause.

Other top fundraisers include Indiana University Dance Marathon and Northwestern University Dance Marathon, which have each raised more than $16 million for their chosen charities. The largest student-run philanthropy in the Southeastern United States is Dance Marathon at University of Florida, with more than $10 million raised in two decades.

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Jennifer Kline is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.

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