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The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Dance Marathon chapter started 15 years ago as part of a nationwide movement to raise funds for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.

Every year, the registered student organization has hosted an event where students and faculty dance for 12 hours, with all donations going to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha. They have continued to be the largest student-run philanthropy in Nebraska and the biggest Dance Marathon program in the Western Region.

Participants, or dancers, must raise a minimum of $100 from family, friends and outside sources to participate in the event. They do this by using the fundraising guide provided to them by their executive team.

“We give tips on how to fundraise through our social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram,” said Conner Kozisek, Dance Marathon’s external vice president. “The most successful fundraising comes from personal communication.”

This year’s fundraising push day will be Feb. 9. Dance Marathon’s goal is to raise “$10K in a Day.” From 6-8 p.m., Dancers will host a big event called Power Hour, where they gather in the Union Crib to write emails, start Facebook pages, play games and serve food to jump start fundraising.

In addition, the organization will hold activities across campus that day, including Valentine’s Day themed events, a hunt for Raising Cane’s gift cards and a Raising Cane’s fundraiser where 20 percent of proceeds from the restaurant will go to the organization.

“Raising money is easier than one may think,” said Jessi Sher, Dance Marathon’s president. “With such a noble cause and the knowledge that our money stays locally, people are naturally inclined to donate.”

Sher joined the organization her sophomore year after transferring from the University of San Francisco. She said Dance Marathon’s mission was one near to her heart.

Before she was born, her older sister passed away at just four months old from heart failure due to Ivemark Syndrome. Sher now dances to raise money to prevent this from happening to other kids.

“[Dance Marathon] has been a gateway to getting to know her better and connecting with the sister I never had the chance to meet,” she said. “I’m one of those super personal connection to the cause people.”

As president this year, Sher’s role has been supporting different executive team functions and ensuring tasks are executed in a timely manner. Part of this was making changes in how the organization runs the event.

Dance Marathon made two significant changes with the new leadership this year.

The first was setting the $100 fundraising minimum.

“Many programs across the country have fundraising minimums, and we were actually behind other programs of our size in starting one,” Kozisek said. “I’m so excited for this year’s event because we’ll be able to tell every single child treated at [Children’s Hospital and Medical Center] and their families that all of the people dancing raised at least $100 to benefit the hospital.”

The second change was implementing an earlier registration deadline. This was done to ensure participants could have at least one month to fundraise.

Dance Marathon’s goal is to hit $200,000 of fundraising this year. Traditionally, organizations nationwide strive to increase by 20 percent each year.

“[$200,000] has been a weird cultural barrier across the country in terms of Dance Marathon,” Sher said. “If we are able to crack this weird glass ceiling of sorts, we’ll see a dramatic uptick in our fundraising and involvement on campus.”

If UNL’s chapter hits that goal this year, they will have raised $1 million during their 15 years. However, they said it’s not all about the money.

“This year, we’ve tried to shift away from an emphasis on numbers and focus more on what actually matters – the kids and helping at the hospital,” Kozisek said.

Each year, the executive team meets and works with representatives from the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in order to determine what the money raised will be benefiting. This year, they’re fundraising to build two cardiac care center rooms and a cardiac care waiting area.

As the event approaches, Sher and the rest of the executive team are overwhelmed with feeling.

“I’m fearful that it’ll go by all too quickly and that before I know it, my time with Dance Marathon will be over,” she said. “But I am confident in our ability to reach our goal, and I’m excited for everyone to experience the magic.”

2017’s Dance Marathon will be held Feb. 18 from noon to midnight in the City Campus Nebraska Union. From 4-5 p.m., there will be a community hour where anyone can come visit and experience the event.

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