Maximise your chances of being invited to tender by adopting the following best practice as outlined in NCVO's Introductory Guide to Procurement and Contracting.

Identifying potential purchasers

Before considering tendering for contractsthird sectororganisations need to understand who their potential purchasers are and how they identify and choose suppliers.

A useful starting point for identifying potential purchasers includes:

  • Local partnerships, committees and strategic forums
  • Approaching a public sector organisation directly
  • Internet searches - online supplier portals such as
  • Local authority websites for further information on their procurement strategy
  • 'Meet the buyer' events
  • Inspection reports - produced by inspection bodies such as the Audit Commission they highlight key issues and failures in both public service and procurement practice

Information to help inform the tender process includes:

  • Which public sector bodies buy the kind of goods or services you provide?
  • How much do they spend?
  • How often do they award contracts?
  • How does a preferred public sector body buy a particular good or service?
  • Does it purchase centrally or directly in separate departments?
  • Who are the current service providers?
  • How long have they been providing the service?

Third sector organisations should contact their local County Voluntary Council (CVC) or contacts in the public sector to gather this information. Alternatively, it is worth looking at contract notices that appear in the press or online. Monitor local authority websites, trade directories or phone them direct to identify the key people in the purchasing process.

Marketing goods or services

It is essential that your organisation builds a reputation for delivering consistent, high quality services. There are a number of routes that might help you to market your goods or services to the public sector.

  • Provider, supplier and tender lists- some public sector organisations such as social care, health, children's services and education place contracts with their own list of providers. They are often used to select a shortlist of potential suppliers to invite to tender for a particular piece of work.Third sectororganisations need to ensure that details of their work is easily accessible. This may involve investing in ICT capability to provide information via a website or accessing tendering information online and e-procurement systems.
  • Websites- used to present an effective profile of what an organisation can do.Third sectororganisations should ensure their websites contain plenty of information for any potential purchaser. Ensure websites are easy to find by listing with major internet directories and search engines and keep websites up to date.
  • Seek publicity- get editorial coverage, either describing your achievements and developments, or providing expert comment on topical issues. If appropriate, obtain listings in specific trade directories such as the British Healthcare Trade Association. 

Making direct contact with purchasers

Third sectororganisations should take every opportunity to attend seminars or events where potential purchasers maybe present or contact direct by email or telephone. When contact is made, remember, first impressions are important, so ensure any research done is up to date and apply it. Introduce your organisation and its services. Find out who is responsible for procurement, request a direct meeting or follow up a few days later if the contact is not available.

Meeting potential purchasers

For those voluntary and community organisations successful in setting up a meeting with a purchaser it is important to make a good impression and maximise the opportunity. The list of questions below can be used to help prepare for this meeting:

Prepare well in advance

  • Research the public sector body and its requirements
  • Decide who should attend, probably no more than two people
  • Outline what you want to cover in your meeting, keeping it short and focused.
  • Note the questions that you need to ask.

Ask clear questions relevant to the service

  • Listen to the purchaser to find out their present situation, how they buy services and any issues
  • Focus on what you can do for them, identifying the 'added value' you can offer. What are your unique selling points? What makes you different from other providers?

Identify the essential features of a service

  • Who specifies the service, who uses it and who else might benefit from your service?
  • How much do they buy and how often?
  • Where is the service delivered? Is it one or several locations?
  • What does the purchaser think are the key requirements from a provider of this service?
  • How satisfied is the purchaser with the current supplier?

Check when they will next be selecting providers or issuing a tender

  • Is competitive tendering always used?
  • How will potential providers be advised: direct contact, press advert, online advert or in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU)
  • How many do they normally invite to tender?
  • What do they look for from providers - experience, financial standing, capacity to deliver and so on?