The British government's intention to marshal the significant resource of the third sector to meet its social objectives has recently become an issue of significant political salience. Political enthusiasm for the third sector is based on the assumption that third sector organisations will be prepared to tender for contracts to deliver public services for government from local to a national level. Until now, there has been no evidence available for systematic analysis of readiness to tender in the third sector. This article makes a starting point in filling the knowledge gap by reporting on a quantitative study of 400 third sector organisations in North East England. The evidence presented casts doubt on the willingness, capability and capacity of the third sector organisations to engage with the government's contracting agenda. A research agenda is outlined to help identify which organisations are most likely to build the capacity and capability to engage in contract work in the future.