Mumbai: Lara Gidvani has never run a marathon before. Still, the 30-year-old mobile money regulatory specialist who returned to Mumbai in September after seven years abroad is chuffed about running 21.097km on 18 January. Gidvani has been training with a group of Mumbai-based runners, all of whom will run the half marathon at the forthcoming Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM). They meet thrice a week early in the morning at the sea-facing Amarsons Garden in south Mumbai’s tony Breach Candy area and work out to build muscle, endurance and strength over hour-long sessions.

All the effort that the Colaba resident has put into training will have another significant benefit—the Maharashtra State Women’s Council (MSWC), a 95-year-old non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Mumbai, will receive a donation thanks to Gidvani's commitment to run. While still a student at JB Petit school in Fort, Gidvani had volunteered at one of the most successful and long-lasting projects of MSWC, Asha Sadan, that provides a home for abandoned and orphaned children up to the age of 6 and young girls between 14 and 20 years.

Last year in December, Gidvani started an online fund-raising project for Asha Sadan on the website of United Way Mumbai (UWM), the philanthropy partner of the Mumbai marathon. She sent out emails to 59 people, including friends and family members, requesting them to donate any amount they wished. Gidvani, too, put in an initial amount of 6,000. “Every dollar and rupee counts," she says. Till 13 January, Gidvani was able to raise 4.01 lakh. Her target is 5 lakh and she has till the end of the month to reach it. This money will be used to buy food, clothes and medicines, among other requirements for the 200 residents of Asha Sadan's care home.

Gidvani is one of 10,000 participants who will run the marathon this year to raise money for a cause. Procam International Ltd, the sports event management company, which organizes three other well-known running events in New Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata, works with philanthropy partners to facilitate fund-raising.

The Mumbai marathon raises the most money among them. In 2013, for instance, while the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon raised 4.15 crore and the TCS World 10k Bengaluru event raised 3.71 crore, the Mumbai marathon raised 18.61 crore.

The role of a charity partner is to not only vet NGOs, process donations and provide tax exemption certificates under Section 80G, but also develop the marathon as a fund-raising tool, says Jayanti Shukla, executive director of United Way of India, of which UWM is an arm. UWM took over from Give India as the official philanthropy partner of SCMM in 2009. In 2010, it introduced charity bibs—or running slots meant specifically for charity organizations—to sell to individual donors and raise funds. The following year saw a 32.75% increase in collections.

One of the ways by which UWM seeks to maximize donations is by streamlining the NGOs. Since the 2014 marathon, first-time NGOs pay more to register— 2,500 instead of 1,000 for those who have raised funds before through the Mumbai marathon. The idea is to spot the serious NGOs at the registration phase itself, that is bolstered by an audit by UWM.

George Aikara, vice-president of operations and strategy at UWM, developed a weighted average algorithm to identify the top 70 NGOs—the list was first created for the 2014 marathon, based on the amount of funds collected the previous year. UWM's aim is to generate as many funds for charities as the Virgin Money London Marathon, says Aikara. The London marathon generates more than £100 million (around 940 crore today) of UK economic activity each year. Last year, individual runners generated £53.2 million and the marathon has raised a quarter of a billion pounds for charity in the past five years, according to the official website.

The NGOs in UWM's priority list are allotted more charity bibs than the rest. This year, of the 292 NGOs that registered to raise funds through the marathon, the first 10 (that is, those which raised the most money in the 2014 marathon) including MSWC, were allotted 45 bibs each. The next 20 NGOs were allotted 30 bibs each, while the following 40 NGOs were allotted 20 bibs each. The remaining 222—77 of whom have registered for the first time—were given 12 bibs each.

In all, 10,000 charity bibs are available for fund-raising each year. Of these, 4,000 are given to NGOs. The remaining 6,000 are made available to companies— through the corporate team category—to field teams that would run for charity organizations. Thus, an NGO could approach both individual donors as well as corporates to raise funds.

Allocation typically begins in July. NGOs were asked to raise a minimum amount of 8,000 per bib— 1,000 more than last year’s minimum amount. They are encouraged to raise more, and approach corporates to sign up as well. By November, all 10,000 bibs have to be accounted for.

“We encourage NGOs to give the bibs for higher than the base amount. Not only do they have to try harder, this also encourages them to get more creative. In turn, this creates a greater demand for bibs," explains Aikara. In September 2014, UWM also held workshops and meetings to help NGOs approach donors. They showed them a PowerPoint presentation titled Leveraging the SCMM 2015 Platform, which offered tips on getting corporates to run for their cause.

Deboshree Ghosh, who works as a senior executive with Cleartrip.com's social media team, is one such corporate employee who will run the Dream Run, a race category of 6km. This is the fifth time that the 26-year-old will be running as part of her firm’s 15-member corporate team to raise funds for Magic Bus India Foundation, an NGO which uses sports to address the development needs of underprivileged children. The Navi Mumbai resident whose fitness routine includes an hour-long daily walk says, “When the company sent out an email asking people to sign up for the marathon, I did it within minutes. This is the only time when colleagues from different departments come together. It’s a great feeling to reach the finish line and then compare timings. Afterwards, we all go and get breakfast. It’s fun," says Ghosh.

Besides Cleartrip.com, employees from three other corporates—Prudential, eClerx and HDFC Life—will raise funds for Magic Bus.

The corporate team category has been there since the 2005 marathon, but UWM has refined the fund-raising procedure in this segment as well. It reduced the size of the teams and increased the cost of participation. Corporates now have to pay 4 lakh to field a 25-member team (of which 3.4 lakh goes to the NGO) and 2.75 lakh for a 15-member team (of which 2.35 lakh goes to the NGO). UWM gets 60,000 and 40,000 respectively in both categories. Each corporate can field up to seven teams.

This year, 152 corporates have signed up, which indicates that the bibs sold out faster. According to Aikara, of the 6,000 bibs allocated to companies, the number of serious runners has increased. “Earlier, most corporates would field teams only for the Dream Run. This year, we’ve noticed more companies sending employees for full and half marathons," he says.

Last year, six corporate partners ran for Magic Bus. Together with the charity bibs sold to individual donors, Magic Bus raised 24 lakh in the 2014 marathon, which was 1% of the total donations it raises in any given year, informs Amit Kuruppan, head (retail), who looks into fund-raising for the NGO. “The marathon is a platform for us to build partnerships with corporate houses. It gives us a well-publicized platform—a good starting point for reaching out to prospective donors," he adds.

MSWC approached corporates to run for them for the first time this year, says chairperson Smita Venkat. This helped them bump up the funds collected—last year, the organization raised 10 lakh. This year, Venkat sold 45 charity bibs for an average of 15,000, and four corporate teams have pledged to run the 2015 marathon for the organization. Besides Gidvani, two other people have started fund-raising pages on the UWM website for MSWC, including Ramesh Venkat, founder of Fairwinds Asset Managers Ltd (who is the spouse of MSWC’s Venkat), and Sushant Divgikar, Mr Gay India 2014. In total, MSWC has raised at least 25 lakh. “We need funds beyond the one-off charity of people who visit Asha Sadan. We need a sustainable model. The marathon offers us that. The companies receive recognition for running for a cause, and their employees are happy too. It’s a win-win for all," she says.

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