Ethical Procurement: how disability organisations can compete by combining profit and purpose

By June 15, 2017Not For Profit

This article captures the key points Laura Reed, our Associate Director, recently made during her presentation at the national NDS Disability at Work conference. It is intended for leaders of disability organisations that are looking for a competitive edge to pitch their services to the private and public sectors.

Businesses and government are increasingly looking for opportunities in their supply chain to increase their ethical practices.

Businesses and government are increasingly looking at how they can build ethical considerations into procurement processes. The dollar figures are large; the Australian government issued over 70,000 procurement contracts last year to a total value of $56bn and the average ASX100 company procures in excess of $3bn worth of goods and services a year. Even a small slice of this is a big opportunity.

There is an increasing view that businesses have a shared obligation, along with government and the social sector, to contribute to addressing social and environmental issues. Corporate strategy is changing to adopt this obligation and consumers are becoming more proactive in supporting companies that are seen to have a positive social and environmental impact. This encompasses an increased focus on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and more strategic Community Investment.

Ethical procurement is one avenue for corporates to enhance their social impact across the day-to-day operations of the business.

Practical steps

If you’re a disability enterprise trying to sell your product or service, there are some practical steps you can take to give you an edge.

When dealing with a business procurement or hiring manager, remember that the individual has lots of competing priorities, might be new in their role, and may not have a nuanced understanding of the broader issues.

We have identified four key things that can help to drive successful uptake of products and services.

Educate your contacts

Help to spread awareness about the corporate, economic and social benefits of procuring from your disability enterprise. Be pro-active:

  • Rather than waiting for a tender to come up, email information about your work to prospective customers and offer to meet their procurement team.
  • Run an informal ‘brown bag lunch’ session, inviting your existing customers and asking them to invite some of their customers or other suppliers.
  • Find out about presenting at supplier expos. Some companies organise supplier expos to enable staff to meet some of the organisations the company is purchasing from.
  • Consider running a campaign with industry leaders to target businesses at a strategic level.
  • Go beyond your usual contacts in procurement. Think about engaging with corporate affairs teams, sustainability and community teams, diversity and inclusion teams, even innovation teams might be interested in your message.
  • Don’t forget the power of the BBQ chat. Share what you do with people you know outside of work; they own and work for businesses too!

Make it easy to sell the benefits to their organisation

Help your contact to make the business case. Every business has lots of levels of approval and hoops to jump through; the bigger the business the more there are. The more you can do to proactively support your contact through this process, the easier it will be for them to say yes and for you to succeed.

Build a business case; lead with business value, back it up with purpose. You need to be competitive on quality and price; the for-purpose aspect is your differentiating factor and can be what gets you over the line.

Start by sitting down with your team to articulate how your organisation adds value to businesses that engage your services. One very simple question we always start with at Spark is “What problem are you trying to solve?”. Once you have this clearly articulated you’re off to a good start!

The next step is doing your homework. Take time to review the business or CSR strategy of the business you’re pitching to. Most companies put at least a summary of their strategy on their website (and if you can’t find it, ask for it). Look at what they are trying to achieve as a business and identify how you can help them achieve those goals. Ask what format works best for their organisation: report, presentation, face to face meeting, and tailor your material to that format.

Support with implementation

Once an agreement is signed off don’t simply move on to the next prospect. Look to build long-term relationships; keep in touch and support them to support you.

Provide support to your contact. Ask what they need, little things like pre-drafted emails, one page fact sheets, a conversation about their planned stakeholder engagement approach can all mean that implementation goes a lot more smoothly.

Ask for feedback regularly. Whether it’s through formal meetings or informal phone calls, make sure you create lots of opportunities to hear what’s working and what’s not. Then make sure you have a clear and proactive approach around celebrating positive feedback and addressing any negative feedback.

Review your approach to working together. Ensure your feedback conversations also cover how you’re working together. This will help you to build a strong and collaborative relationship, which in turn will strengthen the longevity of the partnership. It’s also a great opportunity to identify potential new avenues for business development.

Measure and communicate your impact

This is incredibly important to businesses. Not only do they want to know the facts and figures demonstrating how much value they’re getting or how much they’re saving with your product or service, they also want to know the social impact being created through working with you.

Be sure to communicate this information back to your existing business customers. Everyone loves a positive story, so package up the information in a way that can be easily shared. Write up a case study, together with a picture and a quote, that can be showcased on a company’s intranet. Again, make it simple for your contact to get a ‘win’.


The profit and purpose market is burgeoning. Being able to clearly articulate the value of your services can provide that tipping point to success.

Need further support?

We can help you articulate your value propositions. Get in touch with us at

To learn more about developing partnerships across sectors for social impact, download our whitepaper, Partnering for Purpose.

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