Everything You Need to Start a Read-a-Thon Fundraiser

Explore how to start your own read-a-thon fundraising campaign with the steps in this guide.

To streamline the read-a-thon planning process, use 99Pledges’ specialized fundraising software.

As a teacher, school administrator, parent, PTA member, or librarian, you’re likely all too familiar with the need for fundraising. Schools often rely on fundraising to purchase classroom supplies, provide learning materials, and organize field trips. Raising money through fundraising can reduce the financial burden on teachers and parents to fill in the gaps in funding.

However, fundraising sometimes requires a lot of time, effort, and upfront funding. For example, some nonprofit organizations spend months and hundreds or even thousands of dollars planning and executing their fundraising campaigns. And these nonprofits usually have fundraising experts who know the best ways to motivate supporters to give.

While these factors make for a highly successful fundraising campaign, following this process is out of reach for many schools, libraries, and other youth organizations. Instead, we recommend choosing a simple, easy-to-organize fundraiser like a read-a-thon.

Your organization can plan a read-a-thon in just six steps, and you can streamline the process by working with a fundraising partner like 99Pledges. With specialized fundraising software, you can set up an online, pledge-based peer-to-peer fundraiser that’s easy for participants to share with their network of family and friends.

Ready to learn more about how to set up your own read-a-thon? In this guide, we’ll cover all of the basics, including:

Because they focus on reading, read-a-thons are perfect for schools, libraries, and other youth-centric groups. So, while your organization fundraises, you can also instill a lifelong habit of reading in your participants.

Let’s get started by defining what a read-a-thon is.

What is a read-a-thon?

A read-a-thon is a fundraiser in which participants collect donations based on how much they read during a set time period.

Read-a-thons are in the same vein as other “a-thon” fundraisers like the hit-a-thon or dance-a-thon. A read-a-thon is a fundraiser in which participants track their reading progress and collect donations based on the total minutes, pages, or chapters they read. 

Because of their emphasis on reading for pleasure, these fundraisers are great for school fundraising. A typical read-a-thon fundraiser follows this general structure:

  • Step 1: 99Pledges creates a participant pledge page for each student in your school.
  • Step 2: Each student, such as Tyler, collects pledged donations from his friends, family members, and other acquaintances. Each donor gives either a flat donation amount or $1 per minute that Tyler reads during the fundraiser.
  • Step 3: While collecting donations, Tyler is also working hard to read as many minutes as he can before the fundraiser ends. He or his parents tracks his progress in his reading log.
  • Step 4: Once the fundraiser ends, Tyler examines his reading log and finds that he read a total of 180 minutes. Each per-minute supporter then is charged $180 to the fundraiser on behalf of Tyler’s reading accomplishments.

Since there are very few costs associated with read-a-thons, this fundraiser can be extremely profitable for your school. All you have to make sure of is that they have the resources to access books from your school or classroom libraries.

Why hold a read-a-thon?

In addition to raising the funding your school needs to thrive, read-a-thons have a number of benefits for your students. For example, they can boost overall reading levels among your students. Studies show that the percentage of students reading for fun has decreased over the years, particularly among students ages 9 to 13. A read-a-thon can encourage more students to read outside of school and, ideally, motivate them to read more often.

Some of the benefits a read-a-thon will have for students include:

Three benefits of read-a-thons include getting parents involved, improving reading comprehension, and building a love of reading.

  • Getting parents involved. Make sure to involve parents in the read-a-thon, gently motivating them to promote reading at home. This fundraiser could push parents to encourage reading, carve out time for their children to read at home, and purchase or borrow books for them.
  • Improving reading comprehension. When students spend more time reading, they are indirectly “practicing” their reading and comprehension skills. By adding a few additional minutes of reading time each day, they can boost their reading speeds and better understand what they’re reading.
  • Building a love of reading. Your read-a-thon could expose students to new titles that make them excited to read for pleasure (rather than solely for learning). This change of pace from dry textbooks can help younger students develop a lifelong reading habit, an activity shown to have a host of benefits from improving intelligence to potentially preventing the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Regular reading can have enormous benefits for your students, especially if they are younger. By honing their reading skills, students will find other areas of learning easier, be able to focus and understand learning materials better, and even show improved performance on tests and assignments. And best of all, a read-a-thon can be the catalyst for a lifelong love of reading that will improve their lives long after they leave your classroom, graduate, and navigate their professional lives.

What do you need to start a read-a-thon?

Before you begin planning your event, make sure to gather all of the supplies and tools you’ll need to execute the fundraiser. These items will ensure the fundraising process runs smoothly for your organizers, participants, and donors.

Here are a few items to check off your list:

  • Specialized fundraising software that is designed to help schools raise money through online, peer-to-peer fundraisers like read-a-thons.
  • A guide or list of instructions for participants so you can be sure that everyone is on the same page about collecting donations and tracking reading progress.
  • Reading logs to help participants accurately track the minutes spent reading.
  • Access to books so that all of your students can find titles they enjoy. Give each student access to your school, classroom, or local library, and consider holding book swaps among students.
  • A space to read for any students who have time to participate during school hours.
  • Prizes or incentives for students who meet a certain goal or read the most out of all the students in their classroom or grade.

In addition to these items, consider taking some time to prepare classroom libraries for the read-a-thon. If possible, purchase or borrow new releases that you know students want to read. Consider asking them to write down some book titles or genres they are interested in and plan a trip to the school library to help students find the perfect book to read.To check fundraising software off of your read-a-thon supply list, reach out to 99Pledges today!

What are the steps to holding a read-a-thon?

1. Choose how to structure the fundraiser.

The first thing you’ll need to do is map out which fundraising method to follow during the read-a-thon and choose how students will measure their reading progress.

Because read-a-thons are peer-to-peer fundraisers, we recommend using the pledge fundraising model. With this model, donors will pledge a certain amount of money per a specific unit (e.g., minutes spent reading). Then, you’ll receive the total donation amount from each supporter after the read-a-thon ends.

Next, select a specific unit students will track in their reading logs. These measurements can include:

  • Minutes spent reading
  • Pages read
  • Chapters read
  • Books read

Carefully consider which unit is right for your organization based on participants’ ages and reading levels, the duration of the fundraiser, and your revenue goals. This graphic can help you choose the best unit for your school:

This table can help you choose which reading unit will work best for both your students and your fundraising needs during your read-a-thon.

2. Create materials for readers.

Create a detailed, clear guide to the read-a-thon to send home with students. This guide should include:

  • Instructions for setting up their online donation page, with a link or QR code to the relevant website.
  • Rules for the fundraiser (e.g., students must read books at or above their reading level, or parents must sign off on each logged reading session).
  • Details about how to fill in the reading guide.
  • Contact information in case of questions.

Next, create and distribute copies of the read-a-thon reading log. You can create your own or select a template. Make sure the log contains spaces for the date, title and author of the book, the units measured, and parent signatures (if applicable).

Because tracking selected reading units can be a pain point for many schools, 99Pledges has a helpful tool. Check out our guide to learn more about our reading tracker and how it can help participants and parents track their reading.

3. Promote the fundraiser.

Next, spread awareness of the fundraiser to your students, their parents or guardians, as well as the broader community. By promoting the fundraiser, you’ll make it easier for students to collect donations and receive encouragement at home.

Make sure to use channels that your supporters are tuned into. The best way to reach a wide audience and establish multiple touchpoints with potential donors is to use a mix of traditional and digital marketing methods. Here are some popular, low-cost marketing channels to try:

  • Websites. Take advantage of existing, high-traffic websites like your school’s official site. Ask to create a page dedicated to your read-a-thon, and add an entry about the fundraiser to the homepage or blog reel. Consider creating a standalone website dedicated to read-a-thon as a source of truth for curious parents and supporters, too.
  • Social media. Social media can help you reach far beyond your local community of supporters, and all it will cost you is a little bit of your time! Regularly post reminders to read and donate on your school’s social media pages to reach parents and supporters.
  • Email. Your school already has access to hundreds of email addresses for those who are highly likely to support the read-a-thon. To engage these supporters, send out a fundraiser kick-off announcement and include information about the read-a-thon in your school’s weekly newsletter. You might also send a reminder email a few days before the fundraiser ends, telling supporters that it’s their last chance to donate.
  • Flyers and posters. Print media can put news about your fundraiser in front of supporters’ eyes while they are running errands around town or picking up their children from school. Consider passing out flyers during school events or in the pick-up/drop-off line and hanging posts in the windows of local businesses (with permission, of course).

Once you’ve had time to share about the upcoming fundraiser, ideally a week or two before the read-a-thon begins, you can give students the all-clear to start reading!

4. Start the fundraiser.

After your careful planning and preparation, you can kick off the read-a-thon. Reiterate the deadline for the fundraiser and provide fundraising advice as needed. Make sure to keep an eye out for any questions about how to participate or complete the reading log.

Additionally, be sure to help troubleshoot any technical issues participants may have when setting up their donation pages or collecting donations. This ensures no donations fall through due to confusion or technical problems.

Finally, be sure to check in with students periodically to see if they are enjoying the fundraiser. To stay engaged, students will need plenty of books that they are interested in and motivated to read, and they may need a little guidance from a teacher or librarian to find the right fit.

5. Collect donations.

Encourage students to collect pledged donations from their families and friends as they read. Double-check that your fundraising software can process the following popular payment methods so that donating is convenient for supporters:

  • All major credit cards, including Mastercard, Visa, American Express, and Discover
  • PayPal
  • ApplePay
  • GooglePay

If you’re using virtual donation pages, encourage participants and their families to share them online. They can post links to the page on their social media to reach extended family members, friends, coworkers, and other acquaintances who might be interested in supporting the fundraiser.

6. Recognize participants and thank donors.

Once the fundraiser wraps up, gather and analyze students’ reading data to tally up their total minutes, pages, chapters, or books read. Then, report these back to students and donors so they can collect the final donation amounts from donors. If you set a specific goal or incentive, be sure to award all the students who reached it. You might also recognize the students who read the most with medals or trophies.

99Pledges automatically sends a receipt and thank you note to each donor.

Additionally, be sure to thank and recognize all of the supporters who donated to your read-a-thon. Consider some of the following strategies to show your appreciation for their contributions:

  • Use fundraising software that automatically sends a thank-you email after the donor makes a gift.
  • Send them customized eCards to thank them for their support.
  • For those who donate large amounts, send a handwritten thank-you letter and/or make a phone call.
  • Create a donor recognition wall at your school.
  • Encourage supporters to thank those who supported them.

Once you’ve thanked your donors, the last things left to do are to make sure you’ve collected all the pledge donations and analyze fundraising data. You should receive donations made via online donation pages from your software provider within one to two business days, but you may need to set up reminders for some donors to complete the payments. Don’t forget to review your fundraising results to see how you could refine your strategies in the future.

Additional Resources

For a fundraising idea that will both help your organization meet its funding requirements and instill the value of reading in kids, look no further than the read-a-thon. Remember to choose fundraising software that will make the fundraising process easy for your organization, participants, and donors to garner the most support.

99Pledges’ software can support your read-a-thon, streamlining communication and donation collection to take the burden off your shoulders. Connect with us today!

For more information about fundraising for schools, clubs, and teams, check out these additional resources:

Boost your students’ reading abilities and reach your fundraising goals by using 99Pledges’ fundraising software for your read-a-thon.