In the world of corporate partnerships, it is usually the charities that chase the businesses, but occasionally roles are reversed. To secure its partnership with Scottish water supplier Business Stream, Reforesting Scotland did not have to beat off competition from rivals. In fact, all director Dan Gates had to do was to take a telephone call.
If you haven't heard of Business Stream, that's because it is a new entity. An independent subsidiary of the publicly owned Scottish Water, the organisation was created in November 2006 to supply water and waste water to Scottish businesses. Although it is a publicly owned company, Business Stream operates in a competitive market and in most respects resembles a private company.
Like many commercial operations, it concluded that it needed a charity partner. But rather than conduct the usual beauty parade, it decided to do some market research and approach the most suitable potential partner itself.
"We had quite a specific idea in our heads about the kind of charity we wanted," explains Kate Gilmore, marketing manager at Business Stream. "We wanted them to be Scottish and to share our environmental ethos. Mark Powles, our chief executive, approached Dan Gates, one of the directors of Reforesting Scotland, and they hit it off straightaway."
Gates says Business Stream's honest intentions dispelled initial reservations. "You are always sceptical about big businesses if you're a small charity," he says. "But they genuinely want to find out more about forestry and using local wood products."
Unusually for a corporate partnership, the main thrust is not to raise cash. Because it is publicly owned, regulations preclude Business Stream from making any charitable donations. The firm has resolved to raise at least £2,000 for Reforesting Scotland through fundraising at events for staff, but that is not where either partner sees the primary benefits.
Gilmore says the company will offer Reforesting Scotland free access to its PR team, which will help the charity to get its message into the local and trade press. It will also help the charity to relaunch its website.
Business Stream will also release its staff to work on Reforesting Scotland's projects. "We'll release 30 to 60 people at a time for anything from one day to three weeks," says Gilmore. "That's the bit that's really exciting."
According to Gates, the partnership will enable his charity to have an influence beyond its 800-strong membership and spread the word about the benefits of forests and forest products.
"Business Stream supplies pretty much every business in Scotland," says Gates. "If we can get our name and message to just a few of those businesses, that's a big impact. A business might build an office and, instead of building it out of concrete, it might use a bit more timber or switch its oil heating to wood. It could bring enormous benefits."