Earlier this month, Cancer Research UK won the prize for most effective use of a voluntary benefits plan at the Employee Benefits Awards, emerging from a shortlist that included private sector candidates such as Zurich, BSkyB and McDonald's.
According to Jane Vivier, reward and recognition manager at CRUK, the employee benefits scheme is just one of many ways in which the charity aspires to compete with the private sector. On 30 June, Vivier will host a session at a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development seminar that will look at how the approach of third sector organisations to their business models increasingly mirrors that of commercial firms.
"We take a commercial approach to reward and recognition, management and recruitment," says Vivier.
"You can be the best only by recruiting the best, and that means diversity and people with cutting-edge views. Charities should use their money in the most effective way possible: the best way to do that is to take a business-focused look at how they are spending it."
CRUK has a cost-neutral employee benefits package that includes money off groceries and other shopping benefits, cashback incentives and local discounts on shops and restaurants. It also offers a salary sacrifice pension scheme, a cycle-to-work scheme including talks and workshops, childcare vouchers and an accident breakdown scheme.
"We have a wide variety of people working for us - from shop workers to scientists - so we try to offer benefits that are suitable for everyone," says Vivier. "If it is low-cost or no-cost and offers value for our employees, our view is generally that we'll do it."
Vivier says employee benefits help the charity to attract and retain staff. "Huge pay rises are not happening at the moment, so anything we can do at a low cost to help our employees is absolutely the right thing to do," she says. "It builds on our brand, and that is one of the major reasons people come to work here. These things are not just nice to have; they are absolutely essential."
Other ways in which the charity takes inspiration from the private sector include a performance-related pay scheme, a clear pay grading structure and a "people strategy" that covers performance and reward, development, recruitment and engagement of staff.
"People are our most important resource," says Vivier. "You get the best out of people only if you tell them what's expected of them and reward them accordingly. We tell employees they are in control of what their future pay will be and they contribute to our objectives.
"It is important to understand our business goals and align our strategy to that, and use our resources effectively. It's about explaining to people what their journey is going to look like and how they can influence it so they get the best out of it. People are our most expensive resource, so it is important to get the most out of them."