The submission of concept notes is increasingly becoming the first step in the application for funding to the main agencies and private donors. This is how your potential donor will make the first selection among a large group of project proposals to assess their potential. Accordingly, concept notes could be solicited directly by the donor, but they could also become the way in which an NGO approaches a potential sponsor to test their interest in the NGO’s ongoing activities. Thus, concept notes must be clear, specific, and attractive to the reader.
Concept notes are a shorter version of a project proposal and their length typically spans from 3 to 5 pages (if the sponsor you are approaching does not give a clear indication, keep it to 3 pages; the shorter the better). The main difficulty with writing concept notes is producing a summary that simultaneously catches the attention of the reader and elaborates the main issues at stake, all the while keeping the amount of information given at minimum. Do not overwhelm the reader. The concept notes must capture the audience’s attention and make your potential sponsor curious about your project, and willing to get to know you and your ideas better.
Start with an eye-catching title.
First paragraph: background of the project. Explain why this project is important, for whom, and what has already been done in the selected field of intervention.
Second paragraph: objectives and beneficiaries. Limit your objectives to a maximum of three. Remember that your objectives must be connected to the background of the project. Once you have singled out the problems you are targeting, be specific about how your project will address these problems and what the desired results will be. It is important to be specific and clear about each of your objectives and explain who will benefit from the development of the project. Specify who your target group is, why it is important to work with this target group, and how the participants in the project will benefit from your activities. Remember that on the one hand, the target group will receive immediate benefits from the completion of the projects (such as attending workshops, training etc) but also the community will benefit from the various projects implemented by your NGO in the long run. Accordingly, write a sentence explaining how this project will benefit your community by looking at the big picture (you can address the social, political or economic situation of your community and link this project with the main goals of your NGO).
Third paragraph: outputs. For each of your objectives there must be an output. It is of crucial importance that the donor understands how your objectives are to be assessed in order to monitor the development of the project and its results; therefore outputs must be concrete and tangible.
Fourth paragraph: activities and duration. The activities are the ways in which your objectives will produce an output. Accordingly, activities must be concrete and they should give an idea of how you aim to reach a given goal. Importantly, each activity must have a beginning and end point, so make sure they all have a set duration, which will depend on the length of the overall project.
Fifth paragraph: monitoring and evaluation. How will the donor assess the results of your project? Elaborate on the methods necessary in order to enable your sponsor to monitor the development of the project and to evaluate its partial and final results in a practical way (how do you measure the fulfilment of set objectives?)
Include a budget only if specifically required.