What funders look for in a winning concept note

May 12, 2023
5 min read
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Many people know how to write a concept note but few people know how to write one that grabs the attention of readers and grants them the funding they so desire. 

Wondering why you never make it to the next stage after submitting your concept note? Funders have many concept notes they have to go through, thus, in order to make the cut you have to make your concept note stand out. Ask yourself if your concept note will stand out amongst the pile before submitting it. 

A concept note is a brief outline or summary of a proposed project or idea, usually one to four pages in length. It is used to provide a clear and concise description of the project or idea, its objectives, and its potential impact. Concept notes are often used as a first step in seeking funding or support for a project.

When reviewing a concept note, funders typically look for the following things:

1. Clarity and conciseness of the proposed project

When it comes to proposing a project, clarity and conciseness are key factors that can make or break the success of the proposal.

Define the problem or need that your project aims to address. This should be done in a way that is easy to understand, and that clearly highlights the importance of the issue at hand. Clearly articulate your proposed solution, and explain how it will address the problem or need. Avoid using technical jargon or overly complex language, as this can be confusing for readers who may not be familiar with the subject matter.

Use bullet points or subheadings to break up the text and make it easier to read. This can also help to draw attention to key points and make them stand out.

.Avoid adding unnecessary details or information that doesn't directly relate to the project. Consider your audience and tailor your language and tone accordingly. For example, if your concept note is aimed at a technical audience, you may be able to use more specialized language. However, if your audience is more general, you'll want to keep the language simpler and more accessible.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your proposal is clear, concise, and effective in conveying your ideas and goals.

2. Alignment with the funder's priorities and goals

When writing your concept note, it's important to consider the funder's priorities and goals. By aligning your proposal with their interests and objectives, you increase your chances of getting their support and building a strong partnership. 

Research the funder's mission, values, and past grants to understand their focus areas and funding criteria. Identify the specific needs or challenges that your project addresses and how they relate to the funder's priorities and goals. 

Demonstrate how your project can contribute to the funder's impact and outcomes, and how you will measure and report on these results. As mentioned earlier, be clear and concise in your communication, and tailor your proposal to the funder's format and requirements.

If you can, build relationships with the funder's staff and stakeholders, and seek feedback and input throughout the process. By following these steps, you can increase the relevance and appeal of your proposal to the funder, and establish a strong foundation for collaboration and success.  

3. Evidence of the project's potential impact and sustainability 

As the project moves forward, it is important to gather and present evidence of its potential impact and sustainability to stakeholders and investors. 

Conduct surveys or interviews with potential beneficiaries and community members to gather feedback on the project and its potential impact. Develop metrics and indicators to measure the project's impact on the community and the environment.

Provide case studies and success stories to show how the project has already made or will make a positive impact. Be sure to outline the project's long-term sustainability plan, including strategies for funding, resource management, and community involvement.

Engage with relevant stakeholders, including government officials, NGOs, and community leaders, to ensure the project aligns with broader development goals and priorities. Showcasing the potential impact and sustainability of the project can help build support and momentum for its success.   

4. Feasibility and realistic budget

When it comes to feasibility and budget planning, it's important to gather as much information as possible before making any decisions. This includes researching competitors, market trends, and potential obstacles that may arise.

While it's important to have big aspirations, it's equally important to set goals that are achievable. This will help keep your team motivated and on track.

Create a detailed budget, that accounts for all expenses, both expected and unexpected. It's also important to leave some room for flexibility in case changes need to be made down the line.

With these steps, you can ensure that your feasibility and budget planning are thorough and realistic, setting your project up for success. At first glance, your potential funder has an idea of how much funding you’ll need for your project.

5. Quality of the team and partnerships involved

When it comes to evaluating any project, the quality of the team and partnerships involved is a crucial factor to consider. A strong and diverse team with relevant experience is more likely to successfully execute the project and overcome any challenges that arise along the way. Partnerships with reputable companies or organizations can bring valuable resources, expertise, and credibility to the project. The team's ability to collaborate effectively with partners can also contribute to the project's success. On the other hand, a weak team or questionable partnerships can be red flags that indicate potential issues or obstacles for the project which can cause funders to be skeptical about the success of your project.

In addition to evaluating the team and partnerships at the outset, it's important to continuously monitor and reassess them throughout the project's lifecycle to ensure that they remain strong and effective.

6. Innovation and creativity in the proposed approach

Building upon the idea of innovation and creativity in the proposed approach, it is important to consider how these elements can be incorporated in practice. 

When you bring together a diverse group of individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives, new and innovative ideas can be generated. Allowing for trial and error can lead to unexpected breakthroughs and unconventional solutions.  

Utilizing the latest technology and tools can help streamline processes and bring new ideas to life. Encouraging individuals to constantly learn and develop new skills can lead to fresh perspectives and innovative ideas.  

Communicating these elements and the benefits you hope to gain from them is important for your winning concept note. Incorporating these elements into the proposed approach can help foster a culture of innovation and creativity, leading to successful outcomes and new discoveries. 


In this blog post, we’ve seen how funders typically look for a clear and concise description of the problem and proposed solution, a demonstration of the project's feasibility and sustainability, a well-defined target audience and impact, and a strong team with relevant experience and expertise. It's also important to have a compelling and innovative approach that sets your project apart from others. You are now set to create a winning concept note for your next project. 

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