A concept note is perhaps the shortest expression of a project idea given on paper to a donor. It is generally used to first propose a project to a donor before submitting a full application. Concept notes are typically between one and four pages long and summarize the key points of the proposed project.
Oftentimes, NGOs think concept notes are just short proposals. However, unlike a proposal, a concept note does not directly ask for funding. Instead, its goal is to gain a donor’s attention and start a discussion. Ideally, this discussion will later help the applying organization develop a high-quality proposal that is more likely to get funded.
Instead of a concept note, some donors may also request a letter of inquiry. Both are very similar, however, concept notes never use letter formatting.
Concept notes are also important because they save a lot of time. Both for the donors and the applying NGOs. Since they are much shorter than a full proposal, NGOs do not need to spend much time writing them. Additionally, they are much less detailed so NGOs can continue to make changes to the proposed project even after submission. Many donors also like concept notes because they are easier to read, save paper, and take up less space in the filing cabinet.
While there is no standard format, a concept note should cover four main points:
Exact content and organization of the concept note vary. Applicants should pay special attention if donors require answers to specific questions.
Read a Full Concept Note!
Want to read a full sample concept note next? Here is a short, one-page sample Concept Note for Human Rights and Agriculture in Nicaragua.