As research has shown in recent years, companies are becoming less willing to respond to solicitations from charities simply by signing cheques. Corporate 'giving' nowadays may well take the form of gifts in kind or donations of staff time. But as Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of international development charity EveryChild, points out, although charities are often inundated with enthusiastic volunteers in overalls ready to clean graffiti from a wall or paint a school, they rarely get the help they really need. "What we are saying is: 'We have people who can do that stuff, so why don't you contribute what you are really good at?'" she says.
PricewaterhouseCoopers has got the message. Its latest charity partnership - with both EveryChild and fellow children's charity ChildHope - involves the secondment of a group of 13 staff from its assurance practice to review how the charities' financial and operational systems with their local partners in developing countries are managed.
The idea emerged from participants in the firm's emerging leaders programme. "We wanted to avoid a traditional fundraising partnership," says Phil Hendriks, senior manager in PwC's assurance practice and one of the participants. "We already have those programmes in place at PwC anyway, and we wanted to use the skills we have to make a lasting impact on a charity."
This summer, the group will visit ChildHope's local partners in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Brazil and EveryChild's operations in Romania and Russia. Some have already visited the EveryChild branch in Cambodia. In September, they will report back to both charities in the UK.
According to Emma Crew, executive director of ChildHope, one of the main aims of the visits is to critically examine the financial systems of both charities and their overseas NGO partners. "We send them money, they are accountable for that money and they do financial reporting," she says. "We have a way of handling that, and EveryChild has a slightly different way. We wanted people to come from the outside and have a hard look at the way we both do it, and then to make a comparison between us."
Such an undertaking requires the two charities, potentially fundraising rivals, to develop a collaborative rather than competitive approach.
"It is quite a brave thing to be doing," says Feuchtwang. "We've agreed that we will be much more transparent and open about our strengths and weaknesses than is usually the case."
But she believes the process will be eased by the fact that both partners want to work more closely together anyway. "All of us in the sector, and particularly those who manage small and medium-sized charities, really think that this is the way it's going to be in the future. We can reach only so many people on our own, but jointly we can be much more effective."