Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

How good are telethons at raising money?

by Leo Duran | Take Two®

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In this Sept. 2, 1990 file photo, entertainer Jerry Lewis makes his opening remarks at the 25th Anniversary of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon fundraiser in Los Angeles. Julie Markes/AP

The total carnage of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma has yet to be determined, but scores of people lost their lives and hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged.

So tonight, an hour-long telethon, "Hand in Hand," broadcasts tonight from Los Angeles.

A star-studded cast including Beyoncé, George Strait, and Ryan Seacrest will come together to raise money for those affected.

"They kind of activate feelings that help us imagine ourselves as a community more than we would get in an every, kind of mundane experience," says Kevin Gotkin, a communications researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who's looking into the effects of telethons, dance-a-thons, fundraiser marathons and more. "Especially after disasters, there's a special aura that telethons can offer to folks because they are ways we think of ourselves as helping each other."

Telethons reached their heyday in the 1960s when the late Jerry Lewis perfected the art form with, "The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon."

But that was also in an age when watching television was an event for families to gather around.

Over time, it became less cost-effective to host a telethon because of the rising price to organize one and the declining viewership out in America.

"Now, most professional fundraisers are not looking to telethons to raise money," says Gotkin. "They're looking to social media, text messaging, a viral fundraising campaign like what we saw with the ALS ice bucket challenge."

It can be just as easy to donate to a campaign through a click on Facebook, or reaching out to an organization directly.

"There's not much ceremony around that, and in some senses, people would say that there shouldn't be much ceremony," says Gotkin. "But there's also value that many people derive from being able to ritualize their donation. And that's what the ceremony of telethons really offer."

Listen to the interview using the audio player above.

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