I never wanted to be Director of Fundraising. I didn’t apply for it, and I was honestly shocked when I was told that I had gotten it. Yes, I was also flattered that someone out there thought I was capable of doing something so important. But the reality was that I had raised $1,000 for one fundraiser in high school. There was no way I was going to lead VUDM in raising $200,000 and becoming the most successful student-run fundraiser in the history of Vanderbilt University. Because yes, as Director of Fundraising, my job was to do just that.
When I think about Dance Marathon, my first instinct is to think about the numbers. Over the past year, the number $200,000 has taken over my life. Vanderbilt University Dance Marathon (VUDM) is Vanderbilt’s largest student-run philanthropic organization that raises money for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. We spend the year raising money, and then celebrate all of our hard work in a 13.1-hour Big Event that is filled with dancing, eating, and honoring the children and families of the hospital. This year, I was the Director of Fundraising and my job was to make sure we raised the $200,000 that we publicized we were going to do.
When I think about Dance Marathon, I think about leadership. When I say I never wanted to be Director of Fundraising, I mean that I never wished for such before the day the president called me and told me that was my new title. I didn’t think I was qualified to do something so big. It turns out, I was. And I would never take it back. Being Director of Fundraising was the most frustrating, exciting, draining, and rewarding position I have ever had. I succeeded and I failed. I taught and I learned. In one year, I was able to grow so much into a role I didn’t think was meant for me.
When I think about Dance Marathon, I think of my Dance Marathon family. The 17 of us on the executive board were pulled from all different corners of campus, yet we molded into one succinct team over time. These people weren’t just my teammates – they were and are some of my best friends. When I think about the good days and the bad days, they were always there. We celebrated wins and mourned losses together as we crossed the line between friendship and family. These people are my people and it makes me sad to see us disperse, yet I know I’ll never forget what it was like to work with a group of such motivated, passionate people.
When I think about Dance Marathon, I think about the kids. I think about Charlie’s bright smile and Bailey’s contagious laughter. I think about Patrick’s legacy and Kale’s future. I think about Saturday mornings spent at Grace’s gymnastics practice and Tuesday afternoons volunteering in the hospital’s playroom. I think about where our dollars are going. Being Director of Fundraising, there were times when I lost sight of the purpose. I let myself become absorbed by an economic goal and feared facing the failure of not meeting it. But then, I’d catch a glimpse of a photo of Hank or PK or Maddy. I’d hug a child or see a parent shed a tear. And that’s when I was reminded what we were doing. I knew that every dollar mattered, but I also realized that any money was better than none.
When I stood on that stage one month ago with my team of 17, I didn’t want the moment to pass. I didn’t want to reveal the fundraising total because I didn’t want my experience to end. But then something hit me. This isn’t about me. I am so lucky to have been a part of an organization that gave me so many amazing opportunities, but the purpose of Dance Marathon isn’t to build students into leaders. We aren’t some kind of development program. We are here to celebrate and save lives. Anything else is just extra.
I’m proud of the work we did this year and I am still excited about the $230,099.16 we raised. We did what we aimed to do. We broke every record and became the most successful fundraiser in the history of this university. But what is much more gratifying to me is knowing that we just covered the costs of funding the next research fellow at the hospital. We just contributed to the Growing to New Heights campaign that will provide more rooms to cure more children. We continued to set the pace and raised the standards for Vanderbilt University Dance Marathon, ensuring a bright future ahead. Our work isn’t about what we accomplished on February 20th, 2016; it’s about what we inspired future Dance Marathoners to do.
To next year’s executive board, I say good luck and continue to do great work. I’m dreading turnover and giving up a position that I never wanted but truly fell in love with. Part of me wonders where my place at Vanderbilt is without it. However, I am also excited to see the new board strive for goals and save even more lives than my team did. The future of VUDM and the hospital and the kids lies in you. I’m confident you’ll make it happen.
(Note: I am studying abroad in the fall of 2016, therefore I cannot be a part of the VUDM executive board next year. I am not abandoning this amazing organization just because my term is over!)