How to win contracts and tenders

  • As grant funding continues to decrease, a public services contract can be a lifeline for charities and social organisations
  • Procurement and tender processes can be complex, and many may feel overwhelmed
  • There is a lot that organisations can do to maximise their chances of success

The coalition government has driven a major restructuring of the public sector since coming to power, with public services being progressively decentralised. The third sector was supposed to undertake many of these newly outsourced services, however, smaller charities and social organisations (C&SOs) are finding it hard to break into this market.

As grant funding continues to decrease, a public services contract can be a major lifeline to many C&SOs. A successful bid requires a considered and structured approach, and there is a lot organisations can do to increase their chances of success.

Seeking out opportunities

Most opportunities will be broadcast through tender portals such as Contract Finder, but establishing relationships with potential commissioners can improve your chances of success. You should help possible customers become familiar with your organisation, and highlight how you could add value to the communities they serve.

While getting your foot in the door can be difficult, making a sustained, strategic effort to establish and retain relationships will pay dividends when engaging formally with a tender process.

Understanding the process

A full understanding of the process, as well as the award criteria, is essential. Government and local authorities will typically have clear formats and procedures that will need to be followed.

If shortlisted, you will receive a formal Invitation to Tender. This should contain all the information needed to enable bidders to submit a tender. However, before that stage, key questions need to be asked, such as:

  • Are you bidding for a framework agreement or service contract?
  • Is there a formal process for expressing an interest?
  • What kind of procurement process is it? Open, restricted, competitive-dialogue or negotiated?
  • Is there a pre-qualifying questionnaire to be completed?

A helpful overview of the tendering process can be found on the government website, but if in doubt check with the commissioner.

Is it right for your organisation?

While the benefits may be clear, there are potential risks to working with government and local authorities:

  • Compromises to your organisation’s independence and mission may be required to meet the requirements of a public sector contract
  • Committing to provide community services requires a number of strategic and operational skills
  • High standards of accounting and governance will be required
  • Long-term delivery must be sustainable, which has implications for finance, workforce reliability and business continuity planning

In addition, a failure to deliver presents a risk to your reputation and future success. Many C&SOs recognise that they cannot mitigate these risks and will decide not to act on such opportunities. It’s important to make that decision early, and before investing significant resources into a bid.

Demonstrating your value

Success is ultimately down to a convincing argument that your organisation can provide an appropriate, high-quality and sustainable service. It is easy to get carried away with talking about your own organisation, but what you really need to do is to address the question of what you can do for them and the communities they serve.

Explain why you will be easy to work with, your understanding of the goals they are looking to achieve and what enables your organisation to contribute to their success. Promote any unique selling points and ensure you can evidence any claims and credentials.

Commissioners will want to find the best value, but value that is sustainable. Show how you can succeed against the contract requirements, and for the duration of the contract.

Partnering up

Many C&SOs will realise they are unable to deliver on all the requirements of a prospective contract, but are capable of providing certain levels of support. Here, many smaller organisations will seek out consortia partners, or merge with other organisations, to fill any gaps in their capabilities.

Forming a strong consortium, and tendering collaboratively, can be an excellent way for C&SOs to succeed in winning public service contracts. Government and local authorities will not penalise collaborative bids, so long as there are solid partnership arrangements. Ideally, there would be a lead tender organisation, so there is absolute clarity of responsibility and direction.

Acting on feedback

Public sector organisations must give you feedback within 20 working days if you ask for it, and this can reveal a lot about your strengths and weaknesses.

For example, if you failed to demonstrate sound financials, how will you ensure this is done in the future? Acting on feedback will greatly increase your chances of success when the next opportunity arises.