The occasion was The Brain Game, an annual corporate fundraising event organised by the charity Marie Curie Cancer Care and held in London.
This year's competition was the fifth. Teams from BT won the first three games, and last year the retail holding company Kingfisher (which includes B&Q, Comet, Superdrug and Woolworths) walked away with the winner's trophy.
On Thursday, however, BT's team won yet again.
Christopher Gravatt, head of corporate fundraising at Marie Curie Cancer Care, says the Brain Game has proved extremely popular.
"Both this year and last we sold tickets for almost all the tables before Christmas - quite an achievement for an event that takes place in March," he said.
Companies pay £1,900 for a table for 10, and last year the charity raised £92,000 from the evening.
Linda Jordan, a member of Kingfisher's team, says: "We were invited to do this quiz a couple of years ago and it's now an annual event for us. It's a really nice evening out and you know it is for a good cause. It's just a bonus if you do well - though we really enjoyed winning last year and the publicity that ensued was good for our image. It's good to emphasise that we are involved in doing things other than just making money."
The evening starts with a champagne reception - the champagne is donated by Lanson - and four rounds of questions, each on a different theme, before dinner. Then there are four more rounds of questions after dinner. The game is chaired by the television newsreader Martyn Lewis, one of the vice-presidents of Marie Curie Cancer Care.
The ways in which the various companies compete vary, Mr Gravatt says. "Some just send their directors and senior managers, some bring their partners and others don't, and some companies use it as an opportunity to entertain - they may invite celebrities, for example.
"One or two companies hold internal heats to help them choose their teams, and have people coming from all over the country to take part."
Dennis Joyce, a member of this year's winning BT Brain Game team, confesses to having become a determined quiz enthusiast. He explains: "We like to win but the main purpose of the event is to support this very worthy cause. The company likes to be associated with good charitable causes - and our charitable efforts are part of BT's taking seriously its responsibilities as a major corporate citizen."
Vernon Evritt, a member of the team from the Bank of England, gives a similar reason for taking part in the Brain Game. "It is a fun way to support a very good cause," he explains, "and the event fits into the wider contribution that the Bank tries to make toward its community involvement and to charity."
Other companies see the Brain Game as a chance to raise their public profile.
Nigel Clarke, of GJW Government Relations, a political consultancy which employs about 35 people in London, says the company's approach to charitable work was formerly rather unstructured.
"People would write in and we would respond," he said. "But we thought we ought to focus our attention on one relatively major charity, and in a way that had some benefit to the company. This seemed to be not a bad way of putting our company name about among the sorts of companies that might use our services, although I have no evidence that we got any business out of it.
"It certainly doesn't do any harm and it's a lot of fun."
Fundraising events such as The Brain Game, which are aimed at corporate donors, are a comparatively new departure for Marie Curie Cancer Care, says Mr Gravatt. "The charity grew up very successfully mainly on the strength of income from legacies and direct mail appeals," he says, "but about five years ago, we realised we needed to ensure our future by diversifying our sources of income."
A programme designed to investigate alternative sources of funding ensued, and the charity began to approach companies and trusts to encourage them to support its work.
As a result, the share of income from the corporate sector has increased "considerably", Mr Gravatt says.
Companies like to consider their own marketing objectives when deciding which charities to support, he adds.
"They try to ensure that they help charities in areas that are compatible with the business objectives of the company."
There is also a strong trend towards fundraising by employees, says Mr Gravatt. "Firms find this can be a great contribution towards the morale and personal development of their staff." Marie Curie Cancer Care is a charity that is local to everyone, he says - because Marie Curie nurses work throughout the UK and because cancer affects so many people.
One hugely successful corporate fundraising scheme was run in 1993 by Bowland Inns, one of the six companies in the managed-house division of Whitbread Inns. Bowland has 350 public houses in an area stretching from Taplow in Buckinghamshire to Scotland.
The stimulus for the scheme came from Peter Woodward, a retired employee of Bowland's, whose wife had died of cancer and had been nursed by Marie Curie nurses.
Andy Williamson, corporate operations manager in Manchester for Marie Curie Cancer Care, says Mr Woodward came to see him to find out how he could help with fundraising. When they talked, they realised that there was huge potential for a co-ordinated campaign in Bowland's pubs. Mr Williamson says: "We saw that we might also be able to help business in the pubs, filling them up on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings when normally you might find only three men and a dog at the bar.
"We said we would put on events, get our celebrity supporters involved and see if we could make big business on those nights."
The idea took off and, with the help of Marie Curie fundraising staff, local groups of regulars organised a range of activities - pushing barrels or pulling wagons through towns, bungee jumping, even swimming in the sea off Blackpool on New Year's Day. Apart from a few sponsored events, however, most of the money raised came from sales in the pubs of pins bearing the Marie Curie emblem - the daffodil - for £1 each.
Norman Jepson, managing director of Bowland Inns, says £80,000 was raised in Bowland pubs for Marie Curie Cancer Care in March and April 1993. The following year, Bowland Inns alone raised £200,000 and all other Whitbread Inns pubs joined in too, boosting the collection to £500,000. Mr Jepson will not be drawn on what the precise effect of the campaign was on sales. But he says: "Everybody won and everybody ended up smiling. Marie Curie Cancer Care raised a lot of money, the customers had an excellent time in our pubs - and, somewhere along the line, we did some extra business."
Many other companies contribute to the charity's coffers by offering their premises, services, or staff. For example, on 24 April, Christie's, the auctioneers, will host a champagne reception for more than 800 invited guests. On view will be selected items from Christie's spring sales - which could include jewellery, paintings, fine furniture and china.
Jean Peel, deputy head of regional fundraising, explains that guests pay £20 for their tickets. "Christie's donate their premises and staff for the evening and the champagne and canaps are sponsored - by supporters who have requested anonymity - so there is no cost to Marie Curie Cancer Care. We normally make about £25,000 on the evening from ticket sales and donations."
Guinness plc, which sponsors the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition, donates an evening for the charity to hold a private view during the first week of the event. About 1,000 people buy tickets for £25. During the evening there is an auction and raffle of works of art - paintings, prints, sculptures - that the charity has persuaded artists to donate.
This year's private view, which is on 8 June, is being hosted by Viscount and Viscountess Petersham and the auctioneer will be Hilary Kay of Sotheby's. Mrs Peel expects that about £25,000 will again be raised.
Culinary interests are also catered for. Last year, the chef Anton Mosimann cooked delicacies such as Tuna Tataki, Jasmine Tea Smoked Halibut and his famous "symphony of fruit pures" for Marie Curie supporters in the North-west of England.
Tickets for his three-day tour were sold out and more than £10,000 was raised. British Gas supplied and maintained a kitchen set for Mr Mosimann, and the tour was sponsored by Life Magazines.
Green-fingered supporters can also play a role. Hillier's Nurseries has named a variety of hebe after the charity. For every specimen of Hebe Baby Marie sold, the company will donate 25p to the work of Marie Curie nurses.
Mr Gravatt says: "We have a great asset in our broad public appeal, making us an attractive and experienced partner for businesses aiming to contribute to our fight against cancer while bringing benefits to their business activities and their role in the community."Reuse content