Our How-to guide for preparing successful statutory funding tenders
Writing tenders for public sector grants and contracts can be a challenge for charities of any size. Whilst it has similarities to grant fundraising there are lots of pitfalls to be wary of.
So, whether you are new to tender writing or a seasoned bid writing professional, hopefully our guide to tender writing for charities will help you to refine your approach and win that next contract opportunity.
Preparing to Tender
Tenders can absorb a lot of time and resources – even just to get to the point of knowing if you want to apply or not. So the more prepared you are the better. Here are a few key things to think about:
- Identifying tender opportunities: Sign-up to relevant national and local authority tender portals so that you find out about potential opportunities early. The more time you have to prepare your bid the better.
- Identifying key projects/services that are more likely to lend themselves to arising tender opportunities. If you are responsible for tender submissions then keeping up to date with your organisation’s priorities in terms of business development and policy is essential. Ask other team members to flag up any tender opportunities they come across in their day to day work.
- Ensure you have all of your policies and processes up to date and available. Implementing an externally verified quality management system or accreditation system can be a requirement for many commissioners. If you don’t have such a system in place then consider the time and resources required to do so.
- Networking: Your Trustees, CEO, service delivery team and policy leads should be networking regularly to identify potential opportunities for partnerships before tender opportunities arise. This will ensure that when the time comes your organisation has trusted relationships with complementary organisations you would like to work with to deliver an end to end service. Getting to know / attending networking opportunities with local commissioners is also key.
Should we tender?
Square pegs in round holes are never good – If your current services or plans do not fit well with the commissioner’s vision then leave the opportunity to those that do.
Read through all the guidance documents carefully and ask yourselves the following questions from the outset:
- Does the project/contract align well with our organisational strategy and plans?
- Is ‘now’ the right time to be delivering this type of project? Will it impact on other areas of our organisation’s staff, services and other resources?
- Do we have the technical skills and experience required to deliver – and evidence of a strong track record in the area? Or if moving into a new area do we have the necessary on the ground knowledge of local needs, access to local networks and partnerships and knowledge of the commissioner to draw on?
- Is the size of the grant or contract worth the time and resources we will need to spend on applying and/or delivering the project if we are successful? Sometimes a PQQ (Pre-qualification Questionnaire – to express interest) can take a considerable amount of time to complete in itself! This stage will likely give you an idea of the amount of work involved in tendering for the actual application. Not all tenders require a PQQ and some are a simpler Expression of Interest.
- Is our vision for the service deliverable, in practice, within the time-frame set by the commissioner AND within the remit of the proposal budget! Whilst you want to demonstrate value for money to the commissioner; you also need to ensure that the budgeted resources will enable effective delivery of the proposed service.
- Do we need to provide match funding to fully resource the project or contract? If so, do we have this in place or can we secure it in time?
- Who will we be competing against? What do we know about their strengths and weaknesses?
- Would it be better to be part of a partnership, and if so are all parties clear on their role? Draft a Memorandum of Understanding or Service Level Agreement at the earliest opportunity to avoid any misunderstandings later on.
Larger tenders can often consume the time of several members of staff over a number of weeks. Everyone needs to be clear from the outset what is involved, and that you have all sections of the proposal covered by relevant tasks allocated to a member of staff. Make sure you have the following:
- Ensure you can navigate every aspect of the tender portal and that you have viewed all the relevant documentation thoroughly.
- Tender management meeting: Organise a meeting/conference call with key staff whose input you require e.g. service delivery leads, finance, policy and possibly HR if job descriptions/recruitment is involved. Use this time to assign each person key tasks to help you gather the information required, with phased deadlines as to what you need from whom and by when. Your role at this meeting is to ensure you understand the Tender documents/specification in detail – and that the team’s idea/s keep within the tender guidelines. Flag up key hurdles/challenges, and identify expertise that you need the project team to provide.
- Are there opportunities to ask ‘clarification questions’ or take part in a webinar/funder event to find out more – if there is then go and find out all you can. And network.
- Project plan – essential for larger tenders which can often consume the time of several members of staff over a number of weeks. Implement and circulate the project plan to all staff involved in the tender process to confirm the tasks and time-frames allocated at the Tender management meeting. Ensure the plan allows plenty of time for detailed review stages and sign-off before submission.
- Approval plan – it is often a good idea to plan ahead to know which staff/Trustees you require to proof and approve drafts at different stages. Find a fresh pair of eyes to read through/sense check final versions.
- Check-list – it is worth making a list of all the different elements needed for the tender, it is often the smaller administrative details that get missed or put to one side. Flag them within your project plan – with a deadline.
Ensure all the staff who need to input throughout the duration of the bid process are available to support. There may be a second stage to the tender at a later date (an interview or presentation) at which particular members of staff or Trustees need to be free to attend.
Check that all the supporting documents that you will need for submission are up to date; i.e. does the tender require external references, the signature of your Chair/or someone not immediately at hand; are all your key policies up to date – safeguarding, diversity and equality, environmental.
The submission date, check – is it midday / 5pm / midnight…and if an online submission, be prepared for the unexpected regarding technical faults (if something does go wrong or you are not clear about anything – speak to the funder) they are usually very helpful!
- As the bid lead, guide the rest of the team to ensure the project/service proposed remains relevant and keeps within the tender guidance throughout the tender development process.
- Ensure you keep checking on any changes or notifications from the commissioner throughout the tender window. Deadlines can change, response requirements can change, even the specification may have been further clarified or had errors that are picked up and addressed during the submission period.
Practical points when tender writing
It is often easier to proof and edit within a word document, which can later be pasted into the online tender documents.
- Complete all sections breaking down each question into its constituent parts and answer each part specifically.
- Usually the scoring approach and weightings for assessing applications is included in the bidding information. Common sense – but use this as a guide as you develop your responses to ensure you have answered each relevant point fully to ensure you gain the highest marks! Carefully consider the weighting for different aspects and align your level of input accordingly.
- Never exceed word counts and align the breadth and detail of your answer with the word or page limit provided. If they want 500 words do not write only 50! It means there is something missing.
- Stick to the facts. Be prepared for online forms to be less than the words/character counts stated. If you have lots to say and a short word count then bullet points are your friend.
- Make sure you refer to relevant local and national policies and strategies. And speak to your team to gain examples of how your organisation has positively influenced local or national decision making and policy development (if appropriate).
- Fill the gaps. Make sure your solution is not duplicating existing services, but rather complementing them and working with them.
- Ensure you have the consultation evidence available to make a strong case for support? If needed do you have the time to gather additional data? Are all your monitoring processes robust and suitable for gathering the output data you need to evaluate your progress and deliver on your proposed outcomes?
- Additional attachments – where a tender has the space or welcomes additional attachments, make good use of infographics to help demonstrate your project’s key outcomes and impact e.g. use of logic models, and clear project plan/time-scales.
- Demonstrate a clear understanding of how you will recognise and mitigate any potential risks to not delivering on outcomes/successfully delivering the project – including meeting key deadlines and the ability and innovation to respond to any changes in circumstances affecting the project.
Demonstrating your ability
Funders want to see benefits that bring about sustainable change and value for money, not activities or features. They want to see how those outcomes contribute to their priorities (not just your service users).
- Demonstrate your understanding of the need for the service/project. Provide evidence from your own data and external research to demonstrate that you understand the needs of the target group and/or community. Evidence should be less than two years old.
- Track record. Include specific, evaluated examples of your organisation’s work which demonstrates the knowledge, understanding, expertise and resource that you have to deliver. Your project team should be able to demonstrate how they have successfully delivered similar projects; including impact data from recent project evaluations, quantitative/qualitative results, lessons learned, relevant staff/volunteer/trustee expertise, awards/recognition of a service/project.
- Ensure you show accurate/realistic costings in your budget that can deliver the outcomes you say you will.
- Value for money – is not just about delivering your service at a competitive cost/budget; what can your organisation deliver which the funder and other potential bidders cannot provide – quality, reliability, social value – long term impact of your project to the community e.g. improved equality or collective responsibility, successful innovation, cost savings to the commissioner through improved systems/processes..
- Clear and experienced methodology to monitoring progress and keeping the funder informed in the format and timescales they request.
- Provide a clear and realistic plan for sustainability – Once the funding ends what will be left behind? Or if a project needs to continue then how will it be funded longer term?
Are you ready to submit your tender?
Finally….make sure you go back through your original checklist to ensure all elements of the tender are complete and all supporting documents have been proof-read, reviewed against the specification and scoring model and approved by someone with relevant authority to do so within your organisation (note that the commissioner may specify that the Company Director, CEO or sometimes the Chair is the designated signatory) Check all of the following:
- Formatting: Is your tender proposal and additional documents in line with the specified requirements of the commissioner? e.g. have you kept to word counts, page limits, file naming conventions, even font size?!
- External referees: double check they are valid and in-line with the commissioner’s guidelines. How many are required?
- Complete all ‘declarations’ properly with the relevant signature/s – there are likely to be several documents, including the budget, that require sign-off.
- Ask your finance team to double check the budget – and double check for any exclusions that cannot be funded e.g. publicity etc.
- Go back through the whole tender document to ensure all elements of the specification have been completed…..then check again!
- Once you have submitted the tender, ensure you receive email confirmation and/or the status in the tender portal shows as received.
We hope this guide helps you with your next contract tender. It goes without saying, there’s a lot to think about and a lot to do when it comes to planning and submitting successful contract tenders! If you would like some support with the process, then take a look at our tender writing and review services and feel free to get in touch for a no obligation discussion.