Become the 2018 Beneficiary

Northwestern University Dance Marathon (NUDM) takes pride in not only being one of the largest entirely student-run philanthropies in the country, but in being one of the only dance marathons to choose a new primary beneficiary every year. Over the past 42 years, we’ve raised more than $17 million for our beneficiaries, including Blessings in a Backpack who received a check for $920,057 as our 2016 beneficiary.
We frequently receive inquiries from non-profit organizations throughout the Midwest and around the country about how they can apply to be a future NUDM beneficiary, so we’ve compiled the following FAQs to provide more insight on how the process works:

Where is the application?

You can view the 2018 application here.

When is the next application deadline?

Applications will be due in late March 2017 and the primary beneficiary will then most likely be selected before the end of May.

What do you ask on your written application?

As mentioned above, we won’t finalize the next application until January 2017. However, last year’s application asked organizations about their mission and purpose, how they would use the NUDM funds, how they would organize the “hero” program, who their liaison to our board would be, and why they should be selected as our next primary beneficiary. Other questions about organizations’ visions, staff, volunteer opportunities, and relevant connections may be asked as well. Organizations are also asked to provide their most recent financial audit, 501c3 letter of proof, and annual report. While we do ask a handful of specific questions, applicants are able to include anything they want in their submitted materials and we frequently receive a range of insightful supplements.

How does the rest of the selection process work?

After the written application deadline, the new Executive Co-Chairs will read and study every single application received. They will then choose a handful of organizations to move onto the next round, which is a brief phone interview. After the phone interview, a select number of organizations are invited to Northwestern’s campus for an in-person interview with the Executive Co-Chairs.

After doing their due diligence, the Executive Co-Chairs will pick a small number of applicants to move onto the semi-final stage. During this round, the Executive Co-Chairs will introduce the remaining non-profits to the rest of their new Executive Board and turn the process over to them. The board will have the chance to not only read the original applications and ask questions about the earlier interviews, but also conduct a big group phone interview with the remaining organizations. Following a series of deliberations, the finalists will be invited to one last in-person interview on campus with the entire Executive Board. Ultimately the primary beneficiary is not chosen by just the Executive Co-Chairs, but in a unanimous decision by the entire 22-person Executive Board.

What criteria do you look for when selecting your beneficiary?

There is no official standardized rubric and ultimately the new Executive Co-Chairs will decide the specific criteria to use during next year’s process. However usually, we look for organizations that are ready to fully commit to NUDM for an entire year (from May to the following March) – and for this reason it’s important prospective beneficiaries take the time to learn about NUDM and understand what they are potentially signing up for. Probably most importantly, we aim to select an organization that has a pressing and demonstrated need, as well as a clear, sustainable plan for such a large donation. Additionally, during the application process we look to ensure non-profits will be able to recruit enough consistent, local “heroes” associated with their organization, for the series of fun weekend events we host on campus leading up to NUDM (see next question for more details). We also love to see applicants who not only are looking for a sizable monetary contribution from us, but also want to benefit from the energy and exposure that comes from a year of engagement with the Northwestern student body and greater community. There are many other factors we take into consideration as well ranging from the proposed liaison for our board to the applicant’s willingness to share useful connections. But ultimately our goal is to find a non-profit that is ready for NUDM and that will be a good fit for our organization’s needs, as we set out to engage and motivate the entire Northwestern (and Chicagoland) community.

What exactly is this “hero program” you mentioned above?

As NUDM attempts to educate the student body about our beneficiary’s cause, we seek to create personal connections between dancers and individuals (or families) associated with the organization via our “hero” program. Therefore for the past few years we’ve worked with our beneficiaries to create a year of programming involving those who will benefit most from our fundraising. In previous years, these entertaining events have included holiday parties, movie screenings, NU football games, Top Chef cookoffs, etc. before eventually dancing on stage of NUDM throughout the 30 hours. In 2016, we had over 25 hero families attend each hero event giving the NUDM community many opportunities to see the individuals they were fundraising and working for and form meaningful relationships.

The NUDM Hero Program is designed to connect families from the primary beneficiary with NUDM 2018 participants. Our goal is to build lasting relationships between these two communities. We hope to give beneficiary participants and their families a chance to become wholly involved in the yearlong excitement that is NUDM 2018, creating bonds that last far beyond the 30-hour event.

Our Hero Program is an essential part of NUDM every year. Like any superhero, our NUDM Heroes remind our dancers that nothing is impossible. We invite them to dance, color, cook, perform and have a blast with the Northwestern community. The time we spend together and the bonds that we form remind us of the strength of our community and the importance of coming together to have fun and do good.

What does it mean to be a liaison to NUDM?

The liaison between NUDM and our primary beneficiary is an incredibly important position that allows us to work and communicate effectively with the selected organization. We do our best to keep liaisons and our beneficiary as informed as possible on everything happening with NUDM on campus (new initiatives, big events, aspects of NUDM we are trying to improve, etc.), and we ask that liaisons do the same in representing their organization. As a liaison, you are expected to attend every NUDM Executive meeting, all of which are held on Sunday nights from 7:00 to 10:00 PM on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. We also ask that you attend hero events and NUDM’s annual alumni gala, which is typically held in the late Fall. Liaisons can be formally employed by the organization, but they do not have to be.

Do you have any sort of information session for prospective beneficiaries?

Yes! We will hold an info session for interested non-profits on Saturday March 4, 2017. Details about the time and room inside our Norris University Center will be announced in January 2017. In addition to outlining the application process in more detail, the current Executive Co-Chairs will primarily answer any questions you have. Attendees will also have the chance to tour the NUDM tent and see all 1,000+ dancers in action. While the info session is not required for applying beneficiaries, most attendees find the session very informative and helpful so we highly recommend it. An RSVP form for the event will be available on our website in January.

What are the odds my organization will actually be selected?

Although we do get a lot of applications every year, that should not discourage any organization from applying. We’ve had nonprofits apply for eight years in a row before they were eventually selected, and we’ve had others selected from their first attempt. Additionally, we’ve chosen organizations ranging in size from small family-led nonprofits based in Chicago (that don’t have any full-time staff) to established organizations with a national presence – any 501c3 organization is eligible and has an equal chance. Absolutely no connection to Northwestern University is needed to apply and these rarely play any role in the application process.

How much does your primary beneficiary receive?

Our primary beneficiary currently receives 90% of all funds raised by NUDM over the course of the year. In 2016 our beneficiary received a check for $920,057 and in 2015 our beneficiary received a check for $836,490.

When is NU Dance Marathon every year?

NUDM traditionally occurs during the first weekend in March from 7pm on Friday till 1am on Sunday morning in a giant tent on the lawn of the Norris University Center. The date and location of NUDM 2018 is subject to change in March or April due to construction on Norris University Center beginning in the late spring of 2017.

If you have any other questions, please explore our website and Facebook page or send an email to the current Executive Co-Chairs at