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Fundraising Tips

Read-A-Thon fundraisers: The ultimate guide for success.

November 23, 2023

When it comes to raising money for schools and libraries, there aren’t a ton of educational fundraising ideas that appeal to a wide range of people, ages, likes, etc. In fact, there might only be one: a Read-A-Thon.

We thought we’d do a deeper dive into what a Read-A-Thon is, what goes into planning one, and suggest a few online fundraising platforms that are great for hosting your next Read-A-Thon.

Okay, let’s do this.

What is a “Read A Thon”?

A Read-A-Thon is a peer-to-peer fundraising event that encourages people (often children or students) to read as many books or pages within a certain amount of time as they can, track their reading progress, and collect donations. (A Swim-A-Thon, Write-A-Thon, Dance-A-Thon, even a Cook-A-Thon are all other popular fundraisers that follow the same format.)

Read-A-Thons are peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns that are normally organized by educational institutions or libraries as a way to encourage students to read, raise awareness about the importance of literacy, and raise funds for a particular cause.

How does a Read-A-Thon fundraiser work?

Read-A-Thons involve participants (readers) setting reading goals, tracking their reading progress, and asking donors and sponsors to pledge to donate money based on the number of books read, pages turned, or hours spent reading.

Read-A-Thons are generally made up of six parts:

  1. The participants: Readers of all ages, such as students, book enthusiasts, and community members, can participate in your own Read-A-Thon.
  2. Your nonprofit’s goals: Your nonprofit should set reading levels and have participants set their reading goals based on those levels. Reading goals could include a number of books to read, number of pages, or the amount of time spent reading.
  3. Finding donors or sponsors: Participants often seek sponsors, which can be individuals or businesses willing to pledge a donation for each book read, page turned, or hour spent reading.
  4. The actual reading: The actual Read-A-Thon normally takes place over a specific duration. This can range from a day to several weeks.
  5. Students collect pledges: While your readers read, they’ll raise money by collecting donations and pledges from donors and sponsors. As an added incentive—especially for younger readers—the nonprofit organizations hosting a Read-A-Thon will often offer rewards when certain levels are reached. (Number of pages, amounts raised, etc.)
  6. Engagement from the entire community: Successful Read-A-Thons often include local community and group events (think group reading sessions, book clubs, a book exchange, a pizza party, etc.) to encourage kids to read more, raise more money for your school, and spread the word.

10 steps to organize a Read-A-Thon.

A typical Read-A-Thon is pretty straightforward to organize and run—especially with all the tools available to nonprofit organizations, like Zeffy’s peer-to-peer campaign solution.

Here’s a look at the steps involved in organizing your Read-A-Thon:

1. Define the objectives and fundraising goals of your Read-A-Thon.

Begin planning your read a thon fundraiser by sitting down and deciding what you want your read a thons to accomplish.

2. Set your Read-A-Thon’s date and timeline.

Choose a start and end date for your Read-A-Thon. This can vary depending on your goals, but you can run a Read-A-Thon that lasts a day, a week or even a month.

3. Establish your Read-A-Thon’s reading goals.

Lay out what readers should achieve during the Read-A-Thon. You can define various levels with appropriate awards, fun activities, group goals, etc.

For example, if your nonprofit represents a school, you could encourage regular reading by:

4. Create a reading list to inspire readers to read.

Including a list of recommended books or reading materials can really inspire readers and keep them engaged. You can choose books that are appropriate to your target audience or that teach readers about your cause.

To increase participation, and help get friends and family involved, you can plan field trips to the library and host a book swap at school so students can share books they love.

5. Sign up readers and promote your Read-A-Thon.

Create a registration process so readers can sign up for your Read-A-Thon.

Use social media, posters, your email newsletter, and other promotional materials to generate interest and spread the word.

As an example, if you’re hosting a Read-A-Thon fundraiser for your local library, you could promote your Read-A-Thon on social media, create custom bookmarks, host reading sessions, create a “recommended by” book table, encourage parents, teachers, and schools to get involved, etc.

6. Reward readers with prizes and incentives.

Offering prizes or incentives for readers who reach their reading goals or raise a significant amount of funds, can be a great way to get students, family members, and teachers excited about asking donors and sponsors to pledge them.

Planning this ahead of time is a good way to make sure you have enough prizes and incentives and gives you the time to ask local businesses and community members to donate prizes. We've come up with a few ideas to help make your fundraiser work:

7. Track your readers’ progress.

Provide readers with reading logs so students and parents can track the time they spend reading. This could be a physical reading log, read-a-thon templates, or an online platform.

We like Zeffy’s free peer-to-peer fundraising platform that allows you to create your own fundraising pages, but we also recommend a couple other options below.

6. Start fundraising.

Readers can ask for donations from donors, parents, friends, and neighbours based on the number of books read, pages turned, or time spent reading.

Make sure to include a few fundraising guidelines—such as a suggested minimum per page or book or a flat-rate option—and maybe even an event to encourage donations and boost your bottom line.

7. Engage your community with a fundraising event to boost donations.

If you have the time and energy, it’s a good idea to host events during your Read-A-Thon. You can host book discussions, book clubs, reading periods during class, a wine and book night, etc. Anything and everything to encourage family and friends to donate more.

8. Keep readers, parents, students, and teachers up-to-date.

Regularly update students, parents, and donors on the progress of your fundraiser. You can include milestones such as:

9. This one is simple and super important: say thank you.

At the end of your Read-A-Thon, thank everyone: your readers, the donors, the sponsors, the volunteers, everyone and anyone who was involved.

You can even organize a fun closing celebration to recognize readers, students, parents, and donors, give out prizes, and celebrate.

10. Ask for feedback to make your next Read-A-Thon an even bigger success.

After your Read-A-Thon, ask for feedback from readers, students, parents, donors, volunteers, and sponsors to learn what worked and what could be improved next time.

5 creative Read-A-Thon ideas.

Give your Read-A-Thon a creative twist to keep students and parents engaged and encourage donors to donate.

We’ve come up with a few fundraising ideas to get your fundraiser brainstorm going:

1. A “Recommended By” book table:

Read-A-Thon organizers, librarians, teachers, students, and anyone else you can think of can contribute their favourite books for your “Recommended By” book table at your school or library.

Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash.

2. Blind date with a book:

Wrap a few books in paper, give a brief description on the outside, and let readers choose their next book without knowing the title or cover.

You can even collect donations by selling bookmarks.

3. Mini-challenge Read-A-Thon:

You can make your read a thons a little more interesting by breaking them up into smaller challenges or reading sprints. For example:

4. Hidden book nooks:

Hide a few book nooks in local parks or public areas with hidden books for readers to find. You can provide clues and riddles to guide them to the next book nook and even offer rewards for students who find all the book nooks.

Photo by Stephane YAICH on Unsplash.

5. Book-to-movie marathon:

Instead of just reading books, encourage students to read a book and then host a movie night to watch its movie adaptation. This will give students a break from reading, help your nonprofit raise more donations by selling popcorn and drinks, and keep everyone engaged.

Photo by Corina Rainer on Unsplash.

Best practices for organizing a Read-a-Thon fundraiser.

When it comes to planning and hosting a successful Read-A-Thon fundraiser, we have a few best practices that can help you avoid some common mistakes and make this fundraiser extremely profitable for your nonprofit organization.

Case study:

Every year the YMCA in the greater Vancouver region hosts a Read-A-Thon. In 2022, they had over 2,000 readers participate and raise money for the YMCA CommUNITY fundraising campaign.

3 of the best Read-A-Thon online platforms.

1. Zeffy:

The only 100% free fundraising platform for nonprofits.

2. Read-A-Thon:

Dedicated to helping your school plan and host your Read-A-Thons.

3. PledgeStar:

Here to help schools raise more and pay less.

Responsive Table
Read-A-Thon platform Great if... What sets it apart Pricing
Zeffy You’re a school (nonprofit) looking for a free peer-to-peer platform that can support all your fundraising efforts (even a Read-A-Thon) from start to finish. It’s amazingly helpful Customer Success team and zero-fee model. 100% free and always will be. (Zeffy even covers third-party credit-card transaction fees.)
Read-A-Thon You’re a school that doesn’t have a lot of time or resources and needs a complete, pre-packaged Read-A-Thon option. It’s dedicated exclusively to helping schools plan and host a Read-A-Thon. Between 20% and 25% of the money you raise. 20% of your profits: Includes the online or printed Read-A-Thon kit. 25% of your profits: Includes the online or printed Read-A-Thon kit + prizes.
Pledge Star You’re a school that hosts more than one type of “A-Thon”. (Read-A-Thons, Swim-A-Thons, Dance-A-Thons, etc.) PledgeStar step-by-step guides and templates for every stage of your Read-A-Thon. 7% of the total donations received through PledgeStar. (To a maximum of $995.) + A credit card transaction fee of: 49 cents per transaction plus 1.99% (for non-profits) of the transaction for Visa, MasterCard, and Discover, and 3.5% for American Express.

Bonus! Goodreads:

An amazing, free resource to find and talk about books. You can create a group specific to your Read-A-Thon, suggest some reads, keep readers motivated, and encourage discussions.

Conclusion—AKA, the last chapter…

It can be tough for an organization to stand out from the crowd of fundraisers that happen every year.

A Read-A-Thon is a fun way to get your community involved, keep everyone interested (There’s a genre for everyone at any age!), and raise money (attract donations) for your cause.

read a thons

A few other articles related to organizing a Read-A-Thon at your school or library:

ChatGPT can help plan your next fundraising event.

5 online donation form best practices.

How to host a successful peer-to-peer campaign.

A nonprofit’s guide to writing a thank you letter.