The relationship of private healthcare provider Bupa with the health education charity Life Education Centres is not limited to one initiative. The company has provided LEC with volunteers, helped the charity develop a CD on healthy eating and advised it on PR. Bupa's finance director has even become a member of the charity's board. One thing it has not done, however, is simply make a donation.
"Companies want to do more than throw money at charities," says Stephen Burgess, national director of LEC. "They want active involvement. Just sending cheques doesn't get people involved. They want to involve their staff and advertise that they are doing something."
One of the ways in which Bupa has involved its staff is through a pilot scheme called Fit 4 Life, which involves volunteers spending their lunch hours leading children in playground activities that help the kids to stay fit.
"We feel very strongly about staff volunteering," says Joanne Keane, community affairs manager at Bupa. "We have very senior members of staff volunteering on a regular basis. It's a culture throughout the company."
Staff from the company's IT, human resources, sales and legal advice departments have committed to attending weekly or fortnightly sessions for one term in two primary schools in Camden. Another 30 volunteers have just been recruited in Bupa's Manchester office.
For LEC, the programme fitted well with its aspiration to engage the community in helping children stay healthy. But Bupa can be sure of the benefits as well. An internal staff survey of participants revealed that 80 per cent felt that their workplace motivation had increased since they took part in the scheme, and 60 per cent said they believed they had learned skills, such as teamwork and improvisation, that were transferable to the workplace. Ninety per cent said the scheme had enabled them to meet colleagues from different parts of the business with whom they would not otherwise have come into contact.
"By being involved in something practical together, they got to find out more about Bupa and their colleagues," says Burgess. "That's why companies are much more interested in doing something active."
The relationship has generated numerous spin-off benefits for the charity. Bupa has given LEC advice on PR, which has enabled the charity to make contacts in the national press and broadcast media.
"Bupa has helped us open some doors," says Burgess. "We are a small charity and Bupa has an army of PR people, so advice and tips have been very helpful." And the company has made its offices freely available to the charity for meetings.
LEC believes it will also benefit from Bupa publicising the relationship with its business customers: 70 per cent of Fortune 500 companies - the largest corporations in the US - are Bupa customers.