Proposals can get long. Really long. Highly technical applications with all text and documentation can easily breech 50+ pages. But even with shorter applications, a brief explanation of the project and what a donor can expect to read in the proposal is very useful.
In NGO proposals, an executive summary highlights the important aspects of the proposal clearly and succinctly at the top of the document. The executive summary is distinct from the introduction or project rationale, as it does not delve much into how the project began or why it is necessary. Executive summaries can be written in paragraph or table format.
Although it is called a summary, the primary purpose of the executive summary is not necessary to summarize the project. The primary purpose should be to help the donor quickly find the information they need to evaluate the project. This means that it should function less like a summary and more like a checklist of the donor’s application criteria.
What to include
For best effect, the executive summary should include the information that most interests the donor. Go through the donor’s application guidelines to find which details the donor cares about in its applicants. Typically, these are:
- Project location
- The problem the project is trying to solve
- The project approach to solving the problem
- Number of targeted beneficiaries
- Grant amount requested and time frame
- Name of applying NGO(s)
- Contact information
What NOT to include
It is important to take out anything that distracts from the overall purpose of the executive summary. Remember, after the title and cover page, the executive summary is often the first impression a donor will have of the proposal.
- Organizational background – mention the name of the lead applicant’s name, but no further details.
- Project background – why the project came to be or any historical context should go in a different section
- Detailed activities and objectives – focus on the goal and impact, not the details
- Budget details – only include a total request to the donor
- Risks or potential challenges to the project – it is good, to be honest regarding future roadblocks, but these can come later in the application
Placement and length
For longer applications, the executive summary is typically located on a new page after the cover page, table of contents, and/or list of abbreviations. However, it should come before the project introduction, background, and/or justification. For shorter applications, the executive summary usually inhabits the lower portion of the cover page.
The length of the executive summary is proportional to the length of the proposal. However, the executive summary should always fit onto one page. It also has to fit on the same page, with no text rolling over to a separate page.