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Developing a consortium bidding vehicle

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How the Interlink Foundation streamlined their bidding consortium.

Background

Founded in 1990, the Interlink Foundation (IF) is a charitable company supporting some 200 orthodox Jewish community groups. The organisation developed after it was identified that the orthodox Jewish community had a vibrant voluntary sector, but their support needs weren’t being met by mainstream infrastructure organisations such as NCVO or local CVSs – although IF do work closely with these organisations. We are a national organisation with offices in Manchester and London, and the majority of our work centres on four areas: Haringey, Hackney, Salford and Bury. Our mission is to support and capacity-build community organisations to achieve better outcomes for their community, and to work collaboratively with public sector organisations to improve services for orthodox Jewish people.

The issues we faced

Our members were facing difficult financial times, just like the wider voluntary sector, and we setup a consortium bidding vehicle to enable us to collectively bid on behalf of our members for contracts that individually they were just too small to go for. It was a much more sensible option than organisations bidding against each other.

When we started out, consortiums were really quite novel and ours got off to a great start. We did some good work and secured a couple of decent contracts which led to capacity building for our member organisations. But since then it’s plateaued, which is why we applied for a BIG Assist voucher.

After our early wins, we weren’t really growing or moving along, and we were also concerned that we weren’t working with a financially robust model. We didn’t know if the consortium was covering its costs as we had so many shared costs with IF’s other work.

We knew the idea was right but we thought there might be better systems and processes we could employ that would enable us to grow.  

The actions we took

Working with a consultant via the BIG Assist programme, we mapped out our internal processes and found there was work to be done around formalising consortia entry requirements. We have always been very light touch – the intention of the consortia was to allow the smaller, less bureaucratic organisations to participate and we didn’t want that to change. Nonetheless, we’re formalising our entry requirements and linking that to our consultancy and capacity building work. We realised that if you don’t have clear, even if minimal, entry requirements for an organisation to participate in the consortium, then you can actually end up having real problems further down the line, such as spending hours and hours midway through a project trying to support an organisation that has no administrative capacity to pull together monitoring information that they haven’t got.

We looked at finding sources of finance other than the contracts we were winning and capacity building turned out to be such an essential part of every piece of consortium work we were doing that it needed to be separately identified and costed. 

Positive outcomes

We stopped trying to shoehorn capacity building into the particular contract the work was taking place under, and looked at it in a connected but standalone way and came up with a streamlined approach. This tighter approach allows us to properly cost any bids that we put in and understand whether a particular consortium project is actually viable for us. If needed, we can find alternative ways of funding the capacity building aspect of a consortium – for example, the participating organisations may pay a fee for this, or a third party funder may be interested.

Negative outcomes

Although we have secured one additional contract since the Voucher, we have not seen major growth. We did some good work with the consultants and were encouraged to broaden our thinking around moving from purely public sector contracts to grants, and looked at writing up our ideas in order to go out and market them proactively to potential funders. This is the part we really haven’t implemented and that’s been because of our capacity to do it.

Lessons learnt

We have made sure consortium members know what the entry criteria are and we’re confident that every organisation meets them. This has been really helpful. 

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Page last edited Jun 23, 2017

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