End of MDA’s Labor Day Telethon Shows P2P’s Growing Strength

Jerry Lewis and stars like Ed McMahon helped MDA raise nearly $2-billion through its annual Labor Day telethon.

Jerry Lewis and stars like Ed McMahon helped MDA raise nearly $2-billion through its annual Labor Day telethon.

For those of us of a certain age, Jerry Lewis‘ annual Labor Day telethon was our first exposure to fundraising.

Each year, as we prepared to head back to school, Lewis and tuxedoed friends such as Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Ed McMahon would own ABC’s airwaves for the long weekend, raising money for Lewis’ beloved Muscular Dystrophy Association.

These televised events have raised nearly $2-billion for MDA, but they had waned in popularity. Lewis, in his advanced years, no longer hosts the telethon — and technology has changed the way America entertains itself.

The MDA telethon had a good long run, but its popularity fell off dramatically in the last decade as technology changed the way America entertains itself.

It’s not much of a surprise, then, to hear that MDA is pulling the plug on the telethon.

The organization quietly announced on Friday that it will no longer air the event, opting instead to focus on peer-to-peer fundraising efforts such as a recent endurance fundraising program in which walkers and runners participate in marathons and other endurance events to raise money for MDA. Its Muscle Walk program has already raised more than $20-million since it started in 2011.

That figure is still small compared to the money raised by the telethon, but MDA President Steven M. Derks says that it’s clear that peer-to-peer fundraising is where the group needs to devote its energy moving forward.

“The decision to end our beloved telethon was not made lightly,” Derks said in a statement. “In the last few years, the show was adjusted to reflect changes in viewership and donor patterns, and last summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge once again affirmed for us that today’s families, donors and sponsors are looking to us for new, creative and organic ways to support our mission.”

We bid the telethon a fond farewell and wish MDA all the best in creating exciting new programs to fuel its important work.