If you like the idea of a fundraiser that requires relatively few volunteers, boosts literacy or other learning, and brings students together, you might consider holding a readathon.

Similar to how other “-athon” fundraisers (like jogathons) work, schools make money by having kids get pledges from relatives, neighbors, family friends, and others for completing a certain amount of reading. How to tally the reading varies—you can choose to count chapters, pages, or reading periods (minutes, hours, sessions), but the most common model for a readathon is to have students read as much as possible during the designated time period.

The same principles apply to other educational fundraisers, such as spellathons and mathathons. For those fundraisers, sponsors offer either a per-correct-answer donation or a flat donation; students typically are given a grade-level-appropriate list of words or math facts by the teacher, who evaluates how well they do. The Cactus Valley Elementary PTA in Silt, Colo., for example, starts off each year with a Mathapalooza during which kids solve math problems while earning pledges to win math game prizes.

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Organizing Your Readathon

Readathon Company or Do-It-Yourself

One of the first things to decide is whether to work with a readathon company to organize the event or to do it yourself. There are benefits to using a company, especially if it’s your school’s first time holding this type of fundraiser. Typically, these fundraising companies provide tools (electronic and print materials) for students to contact as many potential supporters as possible, provide daily tips and suggestions to participants, and manage donations electronically. (You can find readathon companies in the PTO Today Vendor Directory.)

If you decide to organize the event yourself, the additional tasks you’ll need to do include providing classrooms with reading packets for tracking minutes and pledges, as well as collecting pledges. (Note: You’ll most likely increase donations by providing a pay-online option so there’s no cash collection by your readers; simply have parents email the payment link to their child’s sponsors.) The other steps outlined in this article—timing, publicity, working with teachers and recruiting volunteers, and choosing themes and incentives—apply whether you’re working with a company or on your own.

Some schools choose to incorporate technology themselves. Franklin Elementary in Lyndhurst, N.J., has students use an app to track their reading and books; at the end of the readathon event, students had tracked more than 44,000 minutes.

Timing

Many schools coordinate readathons to overlap with their book fair or book swap to get kids enthused about reading and raising money for the school at the same time. Other factors to consider are whether other groups are having fundraisers and when testing periods are at your school; you might not want to ask students to do additional reading if they already have mandatory reading assigned.

Publicity

With a readathon or any educational fundraiser, you’ll want to give families enough time to find sponsors and gather books (or brush up on their spelling or math skills); a few weeks before the event, send home a flyer, mention it in your newsletter, post some shareable graphics on your social media pages, and provide a few reminders leading up to the event.

Reading Clip Art

Volunteers and Teacher Involvement

One benefit to an educational fundraiser is that it requires relatively little volunteer effort. Some of the volunteer tasks involved include promoting the event, reading to children (or being read to by them) to encourage their progress, organizing and distributing prize incentives, and collecting tracking data.

The academic component of a readathon makes it important to involve teachers. First, you want to make sure the readathon isn’t planned for the same time as any school testing that involves extra reading. As well, it’s worth asking teachers whether they want to coordinate the readathon with books the class is reading as part of the curriculum (some may choose to let kids pick their own books for the readathon). Teachers can also help with checking reading logs and encouraging students to stay on track.


Themes and Other Incentives

Make your readathon more fun by tying it to a theme. Choose something with broad appeal, such as heroes or animals, and ask the school librarian for help selecting books related to the theme for participants to borrow.

You might set up a readathon as part of a themed family reading night at school. Assign a common area where kids can read together (or be read to) for a set time period (stick to about an hour), and have volunteers set up tables or beanbags. You could also organize an easy reading-related craft like bookmark-making and provide some light snacks. Some popular themes include Dr. Seuss, A Winter’s Tale, Mystery Night, Under the Stars, and Treasure Hunt Night. Download our free Family Movie Night planning kit for a full list of themes, snack ideas, and more, along with a complete planning timeline.

Other incentives to make your school readathon more appealing and boost participation:

Set up a photo booth with props.

Enlist a crafty parent to create a simple backdrop, provide some cute props that match your event theme, and ask parents to share photos of their kids on your group’s Facebook page.

Printable photo booth props

Offer small prizes to students who hit specific reading milestones.
Consider purchasing books to award to the top reader in each classroom and top reader in each grade.

Use your principal as an incentive. Jump on the trend of principals stepping out of their comfort zones to help fundraisers bring in more money by seeing whether your school administrator would be willing to take part in a silly stunt at the end of your readathon.

Fun Principal Incentives To Motivate Students

Display a progress chart. Old-fashioned thermometer charts work well as a visual incentive to let students know how their reading efforts are stacking up.


Readathons for Fun and Literacy

Lots of parent groups and schools organize readathons and other educational events like spellathons simply to promote literacy and learning, not as fundraisers. The PTO at Grand Valley Elementary in Orwell, Ohio, had an all-year readathon of sorts: It reached a goal of having students read for 2 million minutes by the end of the school year. At Briarlake Elementary in Decatur, Ga., the PTA facilitates students taking part in the statewide Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl that has them read and get quizzed on 20 grade-appropriate. And the annual March readathon at Franklin Elementary in New Jersey is part of a yearlong series of events to encourage and promote literacy, including a book swap/literacy night and book fairs at a local book store.

For additional ideas on boosting literacy at your school, check out:

12 Ideas To Get Your School Reading

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