It will probably surprise some readers that it is normal in the commerical world to only win 50% of all tenders that you bid for. We can learn a lot from this, especially the effective use of scarce bid-writing rescources - this is why you need a tendering strategy.
Just interested or all-in?
First, decide (at trustee board level) how important the bid is to the organisation.
- Is it essential to the organisation's survival?
- Will it bring economies of scale to existing projects and services?
- Or would it just be something extra for the organisation?
This should allow the appropiate level of rescources to be allocated - NB: it is usually better to selectivly bid with more resources than to "scatter-gun" every opportunity.
Why go it alone, when there are likely to be other organisations you could bid with? They may be strong in areas you are weak in and vice-versa. This is common practice in the commercial world, but needs to be embraced more in the third-sector. Form a Community Interest Company (CIC) or a consortium to mount the joint bid. You never know, it might bring the two organisations closer together for future work...
Decide who's in charge
Appoint one person who is the 'Bid Manager'. It's their job to co-ordinate everything and report back to the trustees and management about progress and issues for the bid. They communicate with the tenderer's staff to ensure that mixed messages aren't sent/received. They also provide reqular updates to the internal team working on the bid, as well as other stakeholders such as trustees.
All tendering processes should have checkpoints/reviews built into them. As a bid progresses, more and more data and information will come to light, both from the bidder and the tenderer, and this should be regularly reviewed to ensure that the scope of the tender is still suitable and that the organisation is able to delvier it.
Plan for procurement outcomes (good or bad)
Using a technique such as Scenario Planning is an ideal way to understand the implications of the outcomes of a bid, so you already have the answers to questions like 'What if we only get one lot of the four available?' or 'Will we have to make staff redundant if we don't win this?' or 'We need to double the staff headcount if we win this'.
Be brave, but keep it legal!
Tendering follows a defined process, but you can challenge it if the result doesn't go your way.
Be prepared to pull out of a bidding process if the requirements are unachievable, or go against the values of the organisation. If nothing else, this frees up the bidding rescources to do something else. Also, if it becomes clear that your organisation is just not able to meet the requirements, then go back to the tenderer and say so, rather than just making something up. Lack of honesty and transparency leads to only one place - a blacklist!
Most tenders will have a 10-day "cooling off" period where those bidders not selected should receive feedback as to the reason for the decision. If something doesn't look or feel right, then consider a legal challenge. Yes, you'll need some lawyers (but you'll find that some lawyers will happily give pro-bono suppport for all the publicity they will get from supporting the underdog) and this could force a review by the tenderer.
Legal support is also a must. This might be a trustee who has experience in this area (i.e. commercial law, not other areas) or a pro-bono advisor, or failing that a paid-for lawyer. Tenders will include complex legal issues such as TUPE, Service Level Agreements and Penality Clauses. The last thing you want is to sign a contract and suddenly realise that you have just agreed to take on a massive pension liability.
Remember that every tender is different and that the situation can change very quickly, especially if clarification is sought on an issue and the responce that comes back is different from what was expected. In the new age of commissioning there will be some that you loose and some that you win - if its more than 50% then you are doing better than most!