Brand on the run

Kedge Martin, chief executive of WellChild, on how her organisation became the official charity for the London Marathon.

Kedge Martin, chief executive of WellChild
Kedge Martin, chief executive of WellChild

Many charities will enjoy a fundraising bonanza at the London Marathon on Sunday, but one will hit the jackpot. WellChild, this year's official race charity, expects to be £1m richer when all its sponsorship money is collected. The annual income of the children's health charity is only £1.5m, so it is a one-off chance for it to cash in and raise its profile.

About 500 runners, including former athlete Sally Gunnell, chef Anton Edelman and Michelle Dewberry, winner of TV series The Apprentice, will sport the charity's pink outfits. Many have been training for months, but preparations at WellChild's Cheltenham HQ date back much further. They began when the charity became one of 47 organisations to apply for official marathon status in early 2005.

"We had been applying every year," says chief executive Kedge Martin. "Last year we got lucky. I think we had proved we could look after our runners and make a good return on our investment."

WellChild was chosen shortly after the 2005 race, but told to keep the news quiet for a year so as not to steal the thunder of the Anthony Nolan Trust, one of two official charities in 2006 whose preparations it followed.

To be an official charity, applicants must submit a proposal for a new project to the marathon organisers and its sponsor, Flora. WellChild's idea was to employ specialist children's nurses to care for chronically sick children in their homes.

The money raised on Sunday will fund nurses at £50,000 each a year over three years. The charity is negotiating with health trusts in Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, London, Oxford, Liverpool, Leeds and Northern Ireland to maintain the posts afterwards.

Three WellChild staff have been working full time on marathon fundraising over the past year. Finding the most motivated fundraisers to compete is one of the biggest challenges.

Martin raised £4,500 when she completed the marathon three years ago. "It took me five and a bit hours," she says. "That's shockingly awful." She's also completed the Engadin cross-country ski marathon in Switzerland. "That's tougher," she says. On Sunday, she will be hosting one of the charity's two receptions for the foot-weary.

Although the marathon's financial benefits are welcome, Martin says the biggest opportunity is for raising her charity's profile. "It's our 30th anniversary and we want more people to know what we do," she says. "Children's charities are in a busy marketplace. It's particularly difficult for small ones. They have to prove they are meeting a need, because they can't rely on brand awareness. That's why we developed niche services."

Having left Britain's largest children's charity, the NSPCC, for one whose income was just £600,000 when she joined, she should know.

"The NSPCC is a great place to learn about the voluntary sector and how big organisations work," she says. "Running a small organisation is very different. Things can move quickly."

Martin is in the second year of implementing a new strategy. In a 2003 rebrand, WellChild moved away from funding only research to providing care for chronically sick children. "It was incredibly difficult to fundraise without having a headline condition to research," she says.

The change has proved a success, but the board almost took another decision that could have had less happy consequences. Three years ago, the trustees were doubtful about the marathon because the costs of gold bonds, administration and advertising almost outweighed sponsorship revenue. Eventually, the charity decided not to relinquish its gold bonds. How glad it must be now.

Martin CV

2000: Chief executive, WellChild
1998: London regional campaign manager for the NSPCC's Full Stop appeal
1991:
Ran a laundry and dry- cleaning business in Poland
1986: Political lobbyist, Sallingbury Casey (now Rowland Sallingbury
Casey)

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