Concept Note Writing - A Guide

November 30, 2022

"Everything Begins with an Idea", is a quote famously said by - Earl Nightingale who was also known as the “Dean of Personal Development". For a nonprofit organization to even take shape, it is necessary for an individual(s) to identify a problem and try to solve it through innovation and developmental ideas. Visualizing what you would like your organization to be doing, its future, and using that script as the starting point for focusing your time, energies, and resources on creating it are how most projects are created and plans are drawn to work on them. But ideas and projects only take shape when they are communicated well and to the right people. This is where we come across procedures such as concept note-writing. 

Nonprofit organizations, most of the time, find themselves knee-deep in organizational matters or on the field, catering to the needs of their beneficiaries. This can leave them with little to no room for drafting a winning project proposal or spending the right amount of time introducing their ideas through writing. In this blog, we aim at explaining what a concept note is, its importance, and how your nonprofit organization can leverage a good concept note to secure grants for your projects. 

Before we go any further, let us look at what constitutes a concept note.

What Is A Concept Note?

A concept note is a synopsis of a proposal that gives a brief explanation of the project's concept and the goals that will be pursued. In order to determine whether the proposed project is in alignment with the program's aims and to weed out concepts that are unlikely to be financed, funding agencies may request a concept note before a full proposal is submitted. Concept Notes are also given to Donors who wish to understand a project through a concise summary rather than a whole proposal paper.

To put it simply, it is the first document where you can introduce your idea for a project to your potential funders and donors in the shortest manner possible, yet capturing the essence of your idea. This way you will be saving your readers and potential funders from any unnecessary details while also helping them understand your intentions and how your idea/project can make a difference. 

What Is A Project Proposal?

A project proposal is a 5 to 20 page document that aims to answer important concerns about a specific project. A project proposal succinctly outlines the objectives of your project, their significance, and your plans for achieving them.

The proposal details the project's implementation strategy, providing in-depth details on the project's goals, methods of implementation, methods of management, and expected outcomes.

Importance Of A Concept Note

An NGO and a donor agency can establish an early professional interaction regarding a project to be carried out with the aid of a Concept Note, which is a crucial marketing document. It presents a case for what you intend to do in a broader sense.

Concept notes can be extremely crucial because of how much time they can save, both for the NGOs applying and the donors. They don't require as much time to write as a comprehensive proposal because they are significantly shorter. They are also much less comprehensive, allowing NGOs to modify the proposed project even after filing. Concept notes are also popular with donors since they are simpler to read, and share the essence of the project through a concise summary.

NGOs frequently mistake concept notes for brief proposals. However, a concept note does not specifically request funds, unlike a proposal. Instead, its objective is to capture a donor's interest and ignite a conversation. Ideally, this conversation will subsequently assist the applying group in creating a strong proposal that has a higher chance of being financed.

Some donors may also want a letter of inquiry in place of a concept note. Though they resemble each other greatly, concept notes seldom employ letter formatting.

Benefits of Concept Notes For NGOs

When organizing thoughts on paper, concept notes effectively provide a framework, which has several benefits for securing funding. Additionally, it serves as the project's initial statement and provides the organization with the freedom to refine an idea before presenting it to a donor. Before submitting a formal proposal, concept papers allow donors to make an assessment of whether the proposed project is in line with their financing priorities and to make ideas to the applicant. A full project proposal can be prepared in less time and with fewer resources because a concept note is substantially shorter than a full project proposal.

The Structure Of A Concept Note

While a concept note is usually asked for by most funding organizations and donors before laying eyes on the actual project proposal and plans, having a project proposal handy in case your concept note is approved can help tremendously. Even though there is no set rule on whether the concept note should be prepared before or after the project proposal is ready, having both documents on hand when submitting your concept note is advised.

The type and length of a concept note are actually dictated by the donor organization. Donors typically don't have the same format for a concept note as they do for a complete proposal. However, some organizations publish requests for concept notes based on a standard format specified in their funding proposal criteria. In general, it's critical to keep in mind that the project idea should be presented in the lowest amount of language possible. The shorter, the better, then! Most donor organizations require between three and five pages, minimum.

The Format Of A Concept Note

An introduction, a background on the project, project objectives, a financial overview, and anticipated results are often included in a basic version of a Concept Note. Ideally, summaries should be no more than two to three pages long, unless the donor organization specifically wants more. Remember that the note should be brief so as not to saturate the donor with details. You also don't want to come out as confused or evasive regarding the objectives of your NGO. Any more details, such as your organization's profile, might be annexed or supplied at the funding agency's request.

The objective of a Concept Note is to highlight the most important aspects of the project, even if there is no set format to use. In order to help the donor understand the organization and the project, you should give details. The following information is crucial to a good concept note:

The Proposed Project's Title: The title should be concise, catchy, and unique in order to convey the project's or idea's essence.

Description of the Organization: A concise description of the organization's mission and the goals it wishes to accomplish. 

Information/Background (in about 300 words):  Explain what the underlying issues and bottlenecks are and why the issue should be addressed.

The justification for the Proposed Project: Include the significance of your project, the reasoning for the implementation strategy chosen, and why your organization is the best fit to carry out this project.

Why is this Project Unique: Features of the project that make the donors feel like you need funding. Mention the project's beneficiaries and effects, if any. Highlight what is unique about your project as this will interest the donors.

Although most concept notes may not have this section, if you include it, it will create a positive effect on the donor agency.

The objectives of the project: Mention the clear and precise project goals and objectives that have been established and include them in the action plan.

Expected Outcomes: These may include both tangible outputs, intangible benefits as an outcome and should be closely tied to the project's goals. Also mention the impact these outcomes will lead to.

Budget Estimates: Give a summary of the necessary inputs, as well as the price of employing personnel, purchasing machinery and supplies, paying for trips and accommodations, and more.

Prospective Donor/Benefactor:  Take into consideration what the donor organization's objectives are and highlight how your project aligns with their priorities.

Contact information of the nonprofit: This includes the name and phone number of the person who will serve as the donor's primary point of contact.

A Concept Note can be created in a few hours or over the course of a few days, depending on the project type being pursued or the humanitarian initiatives being addressed. Nonprofits can emphasize their objectives, social responsibility, and project ramifications. To cover the project's primary details, nevertheless, appropriate research must be done. In other instances, seasoned planners create in-depth notes and meet with project stakeholders to make notes that are more inclusive.

Some tips to keep in mind when creating a concept note

  • Don't swamp the reader with information. However, try to avoid coming across as uncertain or unclear about your goals.
  • Think about your audience. The needs of various donors and financing organizations will vary. Your request will only be considered if your concept note fits into the donor's priorities.
  • Find out as much as you can about the organization's goals, "hot subjects," and interests before sending the concept message.
  • Keep your language in mind. Scientific jargon and technical phrases may be allowed if your idea paper will be evaluated by scientists in your field. However, this kind of wording won't successfully convey your thoughts if your proposal is being read by amateurs or generalists.
  • Only include budgetary information if it is specifically requested by the donor or reader. 
  • There is value in appearance. This idea paper is a reflection of you. The margins should be uniform in size, and the type should be large enough to read without difficulty.
  • Before submitting, make sure the spelling is correct. It's critical to pay attention to details. Count each page. Put the date and your name in the header. Along with the concept paper, including your contact details.

To Conclude

Before submitting a comprehensive proposal, many private donor agencies request that a concept paper be submitted for assessment. The usage of concept papers as a mechanism for candidates to get informal feedback on their ideas and projects before creating a proposal has recently been encouraged by international and state bodies. We are confident that by using this information on Concept Notes in this post, you will be able to create a strong concept note for your upcoming proposals.

At Chezuba, we understand the heavy lifting and organizational pressures nonprofit organizations face, and thus, we offer an online volunteering platform for nonprofits to avail the services of world-class professionals. With the volunteering being online, you can reach volunteers from across the globe to help you write a great concept note and various other skill-based volunteering projects. Sign up with Chezuba today and post a project with us to further your mission of making a difference.

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