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Opinion: Because a run could be for more than just fun

  • United Way Mumbai is probably India’s biggest single-day fund-raising event
  • Awareness and visibility are two other reasons why charities love sports


One of the positives of the explosive internet penetration in India has been widespread awareness of the varied causes that non-profits are investing their blood, sweat, tears and money in. That these non-profits spend a good part of their working hours trying to raise funds to support their work is common knowledge.

At some point, most of us have been cornered by young men and women with pamphlets and blank Excel sheets (where they write donors’ names and email addresses) asking for 2 minutes of our time and some of our money. That’s on-ground fund-raising and the people who do this are called “chuggers". In the West, many make a career out of “chugging". Other popular fund-raising options are fund-raising galas, music gigs, theatre performances, art shows, donation/collection drives and sponsorships of children.

The noughties saw the rise of sports as a fund-raising platform. Several cricket matches featuring cricketing and film celebrities pushed the boundaries. Once Bollywood power started backing football, even the Beautiful Game entered the fray. And the current popularity of running and cycling has given rise to a new form of fund-raising, says Meena Dave, CEO, India Cares, the charity partner for the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, Tata Steel 25k Kolkata and TCS World 10k Bengaluru. “It started a wave of peer-to-peer fund-raising(with individuals raising funds from friends and the extended network). Before these participative sports, NGOs used to resort to dinners, shows and special events to raise funds," says Dave.

“The cost of putting together an event is often as high as 60% of the total money raised," says Dave. India Cares raised around 7 crore at each of the three events last year.

Participative sports provide a philanthropy platform that requires little to no investment from non-profits and lets individuals raise money for the causes or charities they support, explains United Way Mumbai’s CEO Jayanti Shukla. “Internationally, there are several marquee races that are entirely dedicated to charity and fund-raising. The charity theme of the Tata Mumbai Marathon has put this event at par with international events. Such events provided a platform to individuals like you and I to raise funds and also create awareness about various causes," she says.

United Way Mumbai is the philanthropy partner of Tata Mumbai Marathon. Today, the marathon is probably India’s biggest single-day fund-raising event. To put things in perspective, the runners raised 7.5 crore in the 2009 race, while around 34.5 crore was collected from the 2018 event.

The advantage of raising funds at mass participation sports events like running, cycling and triathlon, says Dave, is that there is complete transparency about where the money is going. “The due diligence and whetting that each non-profit and cause goes through before being allowed to officially raise funds at these events lends credibility to fund-raising," adds Shukla. And that is what has been attracting companies to such events—not only to support charities but also to mobilize their own workforce to participate and raise funds for a cause. Seventy-five NGOs and 30 companies are registered with India Cares for fund-raising through running events, while United Way Mumbai has 272 NGOs and 176 companies.

At Tata Consultancy Services, marathons provide a perfect platform for running enthusiasts looking for a way to give back to society. “The Tata Mumbai Marathon is the single largest philanthropic sporting event held in India and provides a great platform to run for a cause. It is a great way to increase our engagement with the community, raise funds for charity as well as create societal awareness about the necessity of good health and fitness," says Ravi Viswanathan, TCS chief marketing officer.

Mahindra, Viacom18, Airtel and several other leading names from the corporate world use running events to engage their leaders and their workforce to raise funds for causes ranging from education to the battle against cancer.

Awareness and visibility are two other reasons why charities love sports. With improved visibility comes greater awareness, which leads to greater support.

Bengaluru-based Binu Verma, for instance, has been running races in Bengaluru and Delhi since 2013 to raise funds for Bal Utsav, the charity she founded in 2009. The first time she ran, she only asked her family to contribute and met her target of 2.5 lakh. A more seasoned fund-raiser now, she uses social media and the event’s fund-raising pages to garner support. More runners have joined her. “We raised 25 lakh in two races last year," she says. “Fund-raising has become much easier thanks to sports events as they provide a platform to disseminate a lot more information to a larger audience."

Sport is putting the individual in charge.

The Running Company is a column that explores how sporting events impact brands.

Shrenik Avlani is co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness. 

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