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Read-A-Thon Reward Systems That Boost Participation

Readathon Reward Prize

The goal of most school fundraisers is to raise as much money as possible, while also providing educational or community value to the students and parents. Read-A-Thons and Math-A-Thons are excellent fundraisers in terms of offering educational value; however, that value is only realized if students actively participate. This is where prizes come in.

Prizes can range from a bookmark to a trip to Disneyland, or even an opportunity to be the principal for the day. The value of the prize is in the eye of the student, so the perceived value may not correlate with its monetary value. Additionally, the motivational aspects of the prize may be more tied to how the prizes are awarded.

For instance, if there is a prize for the top reader, students who find reading tedious may be discouraged from participating at all. Conversely, if you set a fixed reading goal per student, high-volume readers will easily meet this goal and then lose interest, while very low-volume readers may still not be encouraged to participate. It is better to have a reward system that motivates all students to participate to their maximum ability and continue participating throughout the entire event.

In this article, we address some of the issues you face when deciding on prizes and reward systems for your Read-A-Thon fundraiser. Keep in mind that every school is different; prizes that motivate one school may not work as well for another. Consider your own school’s quirks and experiences when deciding how prizes are earned for your event. While this is focused on Read-A-Thons, the principles could easily apply to any other activity-based fundraiser.

Do Donation Prizes Work?

In addition to prizes based on reading time, some schools offer prizes based on the amount of donations a student can solicit. For example, a student may earn a gift certificate to a bookstore by soliciting $100 in donations.

These type of prizes have shown to increase the total donations; however, they also have the potential to alienate some students if their friends and family are more financially constrained. One alternative to consider is setting a defined donation goal for the event and tying that to a fun item or event that the students can look forward to enjoying. For instance, you could say that the donations raised after the first $10,000 will go towards a school trips to an ice skating rink. Students will still be incentivized to get the word out, but it won’t exclude those that are not able to raise as much money.

Individual vs. Collective Prizes

As mentioned earlier, prizes for top readers have the potential to discourage students who do not feel they can realistically compete. Some schools choose to break up the event into smaller chunks, with prizes awarded to the top reader for each chunk (e.g. weekly winners). This can be a great way to celebrate more winners, but another alternative is offering collective prizes (e.g., prizes for the top class in each grade). The benefit of this approach is that students who contribute even a few minutes of reading time will help their class.

Competition or Cooperation

If you choose to offer collective prizes, you still have a choice to make between having the classes or grades compete against one another or having each class or grade work together to reach a common goal. While competition has the potential to demotivate some students, this is less of a concern because the total reading time of each group is less likely to vary as much as it does from student to student. However, if one group is off to a fast start, other group might lose interest. An alternative option is to set a fixed goal for a group to work towards together. It can be challenging to determine the goal that is both attainable and aspirational, but past Read-A-Thons can serve as benchmarks.

By thoughtfully considering how rewards are structured, you can create a Read-A-Thon that maximizes both participation and educational value, ensuring that all students feel motivated to contribute.


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