Each tax season, organizations across the country enlist the help of more than 87,000 of IRS-certified volunteers to offer free tax preparation, many of which also offer financial services. More than 11,000 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) sites provide this vital service, preparing more than 3.5 million tax returns for low- to moderate-income people who can’t afford or don’t have access to a high-quality tax preparer to help them navigate the tax system and claim refunds they’re due. For many regions, demand outweighs free tax prep providers’ ability to serve. For us at Prepare + Prosper in Minnesota, that lead us to a taxathon three years ago.

What’s a taxathon? It’s exactly what it sounds like–a tax preparation marathon with a purpose of creating attention, excitement, and capacity to do more taxes for more people. Thanks to the help of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities “Get It Back Campaign,” we, along with Tax Help Colorado, shared tips and tools for hosting a taxathon with organizations across the country. In addition to serving more people, it’s also an opportunity to bring visibility and media attention to our services and raise support for the work.

This year, 11 organizations in 10 different states hosted their own taxathons, from Pittsburgh to Denver to Fort Worth. Below are snapshots of a few of them.

Louisville Asset Building Coalition in Louisville, Kentucky
24 hours, 216 tax returns, 346 people, $473,791 in refunds

Louisville Asset Building Coalition’s inaugural Taxathon was a huge success according to Brittany Sims, program director at the Louisville Asset Building Coalition. The event included 24 hours of free tax preparation and a community resource fair, along with superhero-themed activities, popcorn machine, photo booth, and a live-streamed kick-off. Partners from their financial empowerment work gathered stories from clients about their experience with VITA and plans for their refund and financial health. Both days of the event were fully booked with appointments, and they were able to see several people who walked in as well. Sponsors included Main Source Bank, Citizens Union Bank, WLKY, Louisville Urban League, Louisville Metro Government and Metro United Way.

Just Harvest in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
12 hours, 143 tax returns, 179 people, $344,000 in refunds

This was Pittsburgh’s first-ever Taxathon, put together by Just Harvest and Repair the World: Pittsburgh. Kristie Weiland Stagno, Tax Campaign Coordinator, says the appointments were full, everyone was in a good mood, and returns just kept piling up! Just Harvest has four tax sites throughout Allegheny County and they extended their hours for the taxathon and invited partner organizations (Fund My Future, Consumer Health Coalition, Taxpayer Advocate Service and University of Pittsburgh’s Low Income Tax Clinic) to offer their services on site as well as creating a one-stop-shop experience for the customers. To add to the “fun,” they had balloons, face painting, and activities for the kids.

Tax Help Colorado, a program of The Piton Foundation in Denver, Colorado
12 hours, 248 tax returns, 124 people, $325,346 in refunds

This was the second annual Taxathon in Denver held at the Mile High United Way. In addition to getting their taxes done, families were able to enjoy snacks while they waited and there was a kid’s corner with activities. Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, Senator Angela Williams, and Representative Leslie Herod stopped by Taxathon to learn about the work of Tax Help Colorado and this valuable service to the community. Ten community organizations also hosted tables at a resource fair to share helpful information with families as they waited. New this year was the option to sign up for an appointment ahead of time either online or by phone. Community partners that came together at Taxathon to provide free tax preparation to metro-Denver families included Mile High United Way, Denver Asset Building Coalition, and Tax Help Colorado.

Ladder Up in Chicago, Illinois
7 hours, 72 tax returns, 76 people, $164,477 in refunds at their kick-off event for their month-long taxathon in February

Ladder Up’s Tax-A-Thon campaign ran through the month of February with the goal of increasing volunteer participation during the busiest month of the tax season and raising funds for the organization. To kick off the campaign, Ladder Up hosted extended free tax preparation. The kick-off event also included advice and resources from the IRS Taxpayer Advocate and John Marshall Law School’s Fair Housing Clinic, opportunities for clients to access asset-building resources, kids’ activities, client prizes, and refreshments for clients and volunteers. The event received coverage on the evening news on ABC 7 and Fox Chicago. Tax-A-Thon was also mentioned in a column featuring Ladder Up in Chicago’s RedEye newspaper.

The organization secured pledges from donors to make a financial contribution every volunteer session during the month of February. Volunteers could also create their own fundraising pages to gain support from their friends and family for each tax session they complete. During the 2018 Tax-A-Thon, Ladder Up estimates it has raised over $14,000.

Prepare + Prosper in St. Paul, Minnesota 
24 hours, 416 tax returns, 191 people, $591,833 in refunds

This was Prepare + Prosper’s third annual taxathon event. In addition to a marathon of tax preparation, the taxathon included a popcorn machine, countdown clock, balloons, tax-inspired coloring sheet for kids, games for adults and volunteers, and prizes for every 25th customer. We kicked off the event with remarks from the Minnesota Commissioner of Revenue, Cynthia Bauerly, and one of our largest funders, Greater Twin Cities United Way. Donors and partners stopped by throughout the event to drop off food and see our services in action. Another year of fun was definitely had by all.