Concept notes provide a basic summary of the proposal that contains a brief description of the project and the objectives being pursued. Some funding organizations seek short concept notes from NGOs before the submission of a full proposal. This helps them in deciding whether the proposed project is in line with their program priorities before inviting the NGOs to submit a full proposal. Programs /proposals that are not likely to be funded are thus eliminated at this stage.
If invited to submit a full proposal, a summarized note gives you the flexibility for detailing your project at later stages of the proposal submission. If not invited, it saves you valuable time that you would have taken in compiling a full proposal.
1. General Concept Notes
These are solicited by donors on a periodic basis (semi-annual or annual). Most donors publish the ‘call for concept notes’ on their websites, other websites, or print media. These are open to all NGOs, or to some NGOs based on the qualifying criteria put up by the funding organization. Examples of organizations that request general concept notes are the European Commission, USAID, UKAID, World Bank, and other large foundations. They publish calls in their various thematic areas on a periodic basis.
2. Solicited Concept Notes
When you are invited to submit a concept note, then your submission is a solicited one. This may result from your preliminary discussions or introductory conversations with a donor about your NGO’s work and the challenges it is facing. Sometimes, donor agencies may request concept notes from NGOs they have previously collaborated with or from NGOs in their databases. If they show interest, you will be invited to send a full proposal.
3. Unsolicited Concept Notes
When you sent a concept note without an invitation, then it is referred to as an unsolicited note. Though it is the least successful, it is okay to give it a shot. If after doing your research you believe your work is in line with the donor’s funding priorities and the submission cycle of the donor agency is open, then you can send an unsolicited note. Though your concept note may not be accepted at the time, they might keep it in their databases for future opportunities.
The contents of a concept note
Concept notes as per call for proposals and solicited notes usually have specific templates to be used. The outline differs from organization to organization, some requiring only one page, while others more (normally up to 4 pages).
While the outline may differ depending on the type of template, opportunity, the project to be described, etc., .a typical concept note has the following outline:
- Brief summary of the proposed project.
- Brief profile of your Organization.
- Background or Problem statement.
- Beneficiary information.
- Program goals & objectives.
- Program strategies and activities.
- Expected outputs, outcomes & impact.
- Monitoring & evaluation plan.
- Budget & Financial information (only if required ).
- Other relevant information (e.g. Relevance, Sustainability, Scalability, Best practices, etc.)
Characteristics of a great concept note
A great concept note should:
- Be concise and coherent.
- Use clear, interesting, and action-oriented language.
- Be articulate.
- Use references & citations.
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