A concept note is a shortest and quickest way to reach out to donor agencies with your fundraising requests and find out if your project can get funded. It saves tons of time and work for both NGOs and donor agencies to know about the project idea and whether or not it can get funded or not.
It is always better for NGOs to write down a summary of their project idea within 1-2 pages and present it to donor agencies. If any of the donor agency expresses interest in knowing about it, you can then involve yourself in preparing an extensive, full-fledged proposal.
So how to prepare a concept note? This article will help you understand what a concept note is, and how you can master its art to develop quick ideas on paper and help you raise funds quickly.
What is a Concept Note?
A concept note is an outline or framework of the development program that you are seeking funds for. To put it, it is a basic summary of the proposal containing similar ideas as in a proposal, albeit less detailed. It is worth noting that your concept note is the first opportunity to get your NGO and its work noticed and to introduce your project concepts or ideas to a donor.
A concept note gives your NGO the flexibility for detailing out your project at later stages of proposal submission. On the other hand, it also helps the donors or funding organizations to eliminate the proposals which are not likely to be funded- on account of not being in line with their priorities or due to other reasons, based on the concept notes submitted to them.
What are the contents of a Concept Note?
If you are submitting a concept note to an organization as per the call for proposals or if it is a solicited concept note, they will have their templates to be used. If not, you can use the outline and sample template given in this book. But in either case, the outline and template given in this book will help you in putting the concept together, as most of the sections are certainly to be included in a concept note. While the outline can vary depending on the type of opportunity, type of format or template, type of the project to be described and so on, a typical concept note has the following outline:
2. Project or Program Summary
3. Organization Profile
4. Background or Problem Statement
5. Beneficiary and geographical information and insights
6. Program Goals and Objectives
7. Program Strategies and Activities
8. Expected outputs, outcomes and impact
9. Monitoring and Evaluation Plan
10. Budget and financial information (only if required by the donor organization)
11. Other relevant information to make your concept note stand out.
How to research ideas before writing the Concept Note?
Before developing your program idea into a concept note, it is worthwhile to invest time and energy into conducting proper research. Research plays a vital role in enriching your concept note and brings depth to your writing too. Typically, you might need to put in some research on the following aspects:
- Context setting and needs assessment: It would mean using primary and secondary research to build the context, to define the problem and to establish the need for the solution that your program is proposing.
- Knowing your target organization: Detailed research about your prospects is crucial. It enables you to understand the priorities of the donors and sets you up for the concept note application process.
- Best practices: You can take your concept note a notch higher if you learn from the best practices in similar context and domains from across the world.
Qualities of a good Concept Note
A good concept note must explain the entire project idea, objectives, strategies and plan of action clearly and concisely. Here are the key characteristics of a proper concept note, and things one should keep in mind:
– Concise and Coherent
A concept note covers all the critical sections of a proposal, but in a concise manner. It has to contain explicit language to explain more in fewer words. Many organizations give ready-to-use templates and/ or web forms for submitting concept notes, and many of these templates have restricted word limits. One has to be mindful of these aspects while working on a concept note. Typically, a concept note can be 3 to 5 pages long.
– Clear, interesting and action-oriented language
The language is key to the quality of a concept note. Keep the writing clear and action-oriented. Do not over-explain the statements, but avoid being vague. You can make use of the numbers and data from your records to make your case more reliable and to show your NGO’s expertise and experience in the field. Try to keep the title and section titles attention-grabbing and make sure you include some hooks in the language.
– Articulation of the synergy
As explained in the previous sections, your research will inform the alignment of your proposed program with donor projects and funding priorities. Make sure this is reflected clearly and emphasized adequately in the concept note.
– References and Citations
It is always the best approach to use reliable secondary data to triangulate your own findings and learnings and to put the global or big picture context to your statements in the concept note. Adding references and citations will make it look impeccable and professional (if word limits/ web-page formats allow this).