Hosting a readathon doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are 9 easy readathon ideas to get your fundraiser off the ground.
“You raised enough money to buy us 100 new books!” The students in the media center broke out in spontaneous applause and cheered before they adjusted their blankets and turned back to their books. They were participating in our school’s first ever readathon.
Show me the books!
100 books is a small order for some schools, but for us this was huge! Our book budget is tiny. Most of our budget replaces worn-out copies of titles we already own. Our books do not have a little tape on them--sometimes the yellowed tape is the only thing holding them together. The frayed edges are downright embarrassing, and the soiled pages are just gross.
We needed a way to raise more money for new books, like another set of Harry Potter because no one can ever get the one they need. Or books on soccer teams. Or books published in the last three years.
And then my colleague suggested a readathon. Of all of the library fundraisers I have held over the years, the readathon was the most successful and most popular among the students. I pitched the idea to my principal, and in about 3 weeks I put it together. We made more profit than we earned from the book fair, and with much less effort, I might add. With these suggestions, maybe a readathon will be your next school fundraiser.
What is a readathon, you ask?
A readathon is a fundraiser during which students read in exchange for pledges or donations to their school. Typically, they ask friends and family to donate money, either based on a flat donation or the number of minutes or pages read. The students then read their books in a central location on a specified day. Sometimes adults take turns reading books to a group of students. For older students, as in our case, students can bring blankets and pillows and read silently. A readathon is easily customized to a school’s schedule and situation.
Score big with the right readathon prizes for your age group.
Easy Readathon Ideas
1. Get staff buy-in! Tell them what titles you intend to purchase with readathon funds that will relate to their curriculum. Let staff know the date as soon as the administration approves it. Then send the teachers all of the info a day or two before sending it home with the students. You can do this through a written flyer, a staff email, or be more creative and eye-catching with a smore or tackk digital newsletter.
2. Schedule the readathon when most students can participate. Is holding the readathon during the school day an option? Students at my school came to the media center during their English Language Arts classes. Other ideas might be an early release day, different days for different grade levels, or an evening event.
3. Decide how to ask for money. Are you asking for a flat donation or are people pledging based on the number of minutes or pages read? Will students collect money before the readathon, or after? For us, a flat donation up front worked the best.
4. Send home information in plenty of time. 3 weeks is perfect, long enough to let friends and family know, short enough to handle the money for only a week or so. (And also to figure in the teachers who hold the flyers on their desks for a week. You know it will happen.) Remember tip #1: give the staff at your school all of the information before you send it home so that they know what is happening. Teachers like to be in the loop.
5. Offer prizes. Although you certainly want to make reading a reward in itself, there is no denying that kids will work for that one thing. All of your prizes can be free or inexpensive. It just takes a little creativity. Adjust prize levels and incentives to work for the ages of your students and the income level of your families. A stair-step approach to prizes keeps it simple.
Suggested low or no-cost readathon prizes:
6. Offer incentives to the teachers for their help, as well. This not only increases your participation, but it buys a little goodwill in the process. For example, if a teacher’s class raises $200, give a book to her classroom library. Do a week of bus duty for the teacher whose class raises the most money. Bring the teachers a treat if they turn in all of the money they collect by your deadline.
7. Get help for the day of the readathon. Yes, you can manage a room full of kiddos who are reading, but you will need a restroom break at some point! I needed help to heat water for cocoa and to pick up the pizzas. Ask your regular library volunteers, PTA/PTO, or parents who have never volunteered but you would like to have in your corner.
8. Add up and deposit money quickly. Most schools have a policy that requires you to deposit money as soon as it is collected anyway. The sooner you do this, the sooner you can spend it and the sooner the students can read the new books they bought. I also had a consideration list of about 200 books already on my book vendor’s website, so ordering was just a matter of clicking a button.
9. Make a big deal about the arrival of the new books! Have a “reveal.” Mark them with washi tape so the students know which books were purchased with readathon money. Keep the books on a special cart or shelf until their newness wears off. (I love washi tape in the library. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen how I use it to mark temporary collections.)
At end of the day
”Can we do this every month?” a student asked. He bit into his fourth piece of pizza and washed it down with soda, thoroughly enjoying himself.
“Maybe not every month, but every year for sure.”
I grinned and enjoyed my own slice. After a long but rewarding day, I was ready to sit down and send in my order for 100 new books.
My name is Julie Overpeck. A middle school media specialist, mentor, presenter, middle grade book reviewer, and queen of the #libraryhack, I am a Texas girl in North Carolina with 16 years in education and 12 years of public school library experience.