Bid writing: how to win

Fiona Sheil was responsible for co-ordinating NCVO’s programme of seminars, training and advice work on public service commissioning and procurement. Fiona left NCVO in October 2013 but we have retained her blog posts for reference.

Much to my own surprise in the last year I’ve helped Wheels for Wellbeing (where I’m Chair of Trustees) win roughly £600k in two grant bids. It’s made me realise there’s some tricks to this that anyone can muster.

Just be patient, methodical, and expect it’ll take you several more evenings and weekends than you’d like. Go in whole-heartedly, certain that you can use this money to make a difference.

Here’s ten tips:

  1. The most important thing you can do is read the question and answer it! This is where the overwhelming majority of bids go wrong. Take the question apart and answer each aspect that they raise and in the terms they raise
    • For example if they want to know you have supported ‘at least 60 clients a year’ you should evidence your response in annual figures, not how many you’ve supported over five years. This sounds overly pernickety but if you do this you won’t let anything slip.
  2. Throughout you should make reference to the evidence of quality and outcomes in your work, even when this isn’t specifically asked for. Just doing work isn’t enough – they need to know the impact this has. So don’t just list what you’ve done, but the evidence for the impact you’ve had.
  3. Be absolutely methodical in explaining how you work and the reasons why you work in this way.
  4. Put users first. Emphasise how you’re personalised, and how you put users at the heart of what you do. If you think you don’t do this well enough, how will this bid help you be better at this?
  5. Remember your mission. Be excited by it and make absolutely clear that you absolutely committed to it – and that you’ve got the energy to make this project work. Make sure the bid shows what is unique about you as an organisation – remember this is a competition for who is best. You need to speak in a way which emphasises things such as:
    • The qualities of your staff which give them such good client relationships
    • The personalised aspects of your services
    • Your flexibility
    • Your collaborative nature (with all agencies including statutory and voluntary, local and national)
    • Your willingness to go above and beyond to overcome barriers for clients
    • That you bring in a multitude of other resources eg grant funding to the area and therefore increase the level of your impact
    • Your passion and commitment
    • The role of users / ex users in your organisation
    • Integration / tackling social exclusion
    • You’re in the area for the long term, and have a strong local presence
  6. But don’t put the cart before the horse. What is the evidence for your enthusiasm? If people fund you, invest in you, how do they know you’re going to make it work? Have you really sat down and worked out:
    • What evidence there is for the work you’re seeking to fund?
    • Why is this the best way to carry out this work?
    • What legacy / long term impact will it have?
  7. Always show how you are a learning organisation, continually collecting evidence, analysing that evidence, and then implementing change at all levels across the organisation. When doing this, explain your processes in bullet points, as below, so you make sure you aren’t missing anything and crucially, it becomes easier for the funder to read.
    • For example, if asked don’t just say you have processes for monitoring user feedback. Evidence:
      • How you developed user feedback formats with users themselves
      • How regularly you collect feedback; alternative methods for users with complex needs / barriers to the usual process
      • How you analyse and prioritise feedback
      • How you change your behaviours as a result of feedback
      • The outcomes of this – and an example of when you’ve used this approach
      • How this fits into a wider strategy of improvement and listening.
  8. Make sure you present everyhing as well-considered, evidenced and strategic. Don’t just list a series of actions on a topic but show how they tie together to affect change and ensure best practice and principles throughout every layer of the organsiation.
    • For example, take the issue they’ve raised, ie ‘health and safety’ and before you start writing map out on paper exactly how you tackle health and safety across the organisation in a way that:
      • Means you have great outcomes ie users and staff are safe
      • There aren’t any gaps
      • Problems are quickly noted an addressed
      • This is all acheived on behalf of current funders / against contract monitoring
      • That this approach reflects good governance and the core principles of the organisation.
  9. Think of the whole user pathway. Before you start writing sit down and work out how people access you services, move through your services, and what happens to them afterwards. This will give you an idea of barriers, outcomes, and partners. Having this clear in your mind means you’ll write a better bid (you won’t leave unintentional gaps) and you’ll make it clear to the reader than you know what you’re talking about.
  10. Get lucky! Bidding as a disability sports organisation in the year of the Paralympics was always going to make things easier for us. See where your luck lies, and follow it.

For more help

See further information on understanding the process of responding to tenders and knowing when you’re ready to bid.

For more help with bid writing, whether for grants or contracts, please contact me directly. I can’t help everyone individually, but happy to see what can be done.

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