In a tale reminiscent of David and Goliath, the financial support charity Turn2us recently entered a European-wide tender process for a contract worth up to £8m over six years. It was the only third sector body to make it through the first round of the process and compete against commercial sector organisations for the three-year Money Advice Service contract. And it won.
Alison Taylor, director of Turn2us, says that the contract will have a significant impact on the charity, which helps people in financial need to obtain welfare benefits, charitable grants and other forms of support.
"We can employ more staff, deliver a new service and reach thousands more people who need help with their finances," she says. "Like other charities, we are looking to diversify our income base and this gives the charity a new stream of income."
The initial £4m contract is for three years, with the potential to be extended for three more. It is to provide a customer contact centre for the Money Advice Service at the charity's centre in Wales and will also offer a new webchat service. The tender was advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union.
Turn2us does not have a team dedicated to coordinating tenders, but in the past 12 months it has tendered for one other contract, which it also won. So what lies behind its success?
Taylor believes it is down to carefully selecting contracts that fit its charitable objectives. "We go only for contracts where we see a synergy between what we are trying to achieve and what they want," she says. "We stick to what we are about as a charity, rather than trying to deliver something that is outside our expertise.
"We also understand that we need to deliver to someone else's specification, which means that it is in their language and requires their own brand, so we might be invisible to the service users. It might seem obvious, but we also ensure that we deliver what they ask for - providing everything that is requested in the specification. No more, no less."
Rather than submitting a standard package of what the charity can offer, Turn2us reads the specification carefully to understand what the organisation wants and asks for clarification on subjects such as the outcomes that are expected.
After completing a pre-qualification questionnaire, Turn2us and five other organisations were invited to submit a full tender. Four people worked on this process, which took five months from submitting the questionnaire to being awarded the contract. "MAS provided a detailed specification, identifying the scope of service, underpinning values and outcomes," says Taylor. "This made it easier to respond to. We analysed our own unit costs and looked at our core business, assessing what it would cost to do everything. We ensured that we had covered all the costs and were very explicit about where we could add value."
An independent accountant was used to check that the financial information was robust and accessible, which was an MAS requirement.
The process included giving a presentation to the MAS executive board. "We wanted to present a vision of the service we could deliver, so we filmed a role play of how we would deal with calls to help to bring it alive," says Taylor.