10 Steps to Drafting a Winning Concept Note for the European Commission

The European Commission (EC) programs are a significant source of funding for NGOs.  Understanding the criteria on which basis the EC will assess your proposal and how you can best respond to them exactly can be overwhelming for most grassroots NGOs. Many NGOs end up not applying and those that do apply to end up drafting unsuccessful proposals. The main reason for these failures is not understanding their priorities. Whether you are applying for a grant managed by the European Commission or any other foundation knowing how to adapt your own project to the guidelines of the call for proposals is the must.

10 Steps to Drafting a Winning Concept Note for the European Commission

Check the guidelines for Grant applicant. The Call for the Proposals web page of the European Commission of the funding opportunity you are applying to will have detailed instructions outlining how to complete the concept note. Important! The guidelines will include:

  • A score sheet (in the form of a table) that is used to evaluate your application
  • A downloadable template to be used, typically called: Annex A.1 – Grant application form – Concept note
  • A budget table

Check for an information meeting. Go through their website to see if the relevant office (e.g. the Delegation of the European Commission in your country) is organizing an information meeting. If so, attend. During this meeting, you will learn more about the specifics of the call and can ask technical questions as well.

Carefully read the objectives of the call. Do they match with the mission and work of your organization? Only apply if they clearly do. If not, do not apply! In the concept note, you will have to show proof that the objective of the call and the problem you are proposing to solve are the same.

Check eligibility requirements of both your own organization, as well as of partners. If you are not sure, ask using the contact email provided. You can only succeed if you are eligible. Also, make sure your organization is big enough to succeed. The rule of thumbs is that your annual budget needs to be at least 50% of the total amount requested. In short, if your budget is €100,000 you can only request up to €200,000. Also, note that if the minimum you can ask for is €100,000 your annual budget needs to be at least €50,000. If you do not meet this threshold, do not apply.

Draft the concept note by copying the relevant questions from the evaluation grid into the template provided. Note that the format of the template is not in the same order as the evaluation grid. Carefully answer the questions asked with the page limits provided. You will be scored on your answers to the questions in the evaluation grid. Do not provide answers to questions that are not asked in the evaluation grid.

The relevant section of the concept note is the most critical one. If you do not score a high enough score on this part (24 out of 30) you will be chucked out and will not make it to the next round. In this section, you will link the objectives of the call to the problem you have identified and are going to address with your program. Again, this is the critical component of the concept note so pay close attention. Are you solving the problem the European Commission wants to solve?

Outline your strategy. Under the description of the action, you will develop a short outline of the program you propose. It is important to outline your strategy, describe specific activities, and outline the outcomes and impact you wish to achieve. If you are specific in the description of the activities it will be easy to prepare a budget.

Make sure you prepare a proper budget for the program to ensure that the total budget number you include in the concept note is based on a proper calculation of the cost. If you do make it to the next round you will be required to submit a detailed budget and the total needs to be close to the one proposed in the concept note. In this section, you will also include a few paragraphs on the partners included and the experience (capacity) you have.

Meet with partners to discuss and agree to each partner’s role in the program. To avoid problems later, it is best to negotiate tasks and budgets before going to the full proposal round.

If you do not succeed don’t despair! You will not be alone. The process is highly competitive and the success rate of concept notes in global calls is often as low as 5% or less and for national calls (covering one country only) between 5 and 20%. The European Commission will email you the score sheet so you can learn from the process.  If you do succeed – congratulations! You are now in a position to do the heavy lifting required of developing a full proposal. Your chance of success in the final full proposal round is not close to 50%.

To view more information please visit this link: https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/opportunities/portal/

European Commission Funding: Writing a Winning Concept Note

We have developed this online course exactly to help NGOs to get their foot into the door and to learn how to draft successful concept notes for the European Commission!

This course will help you to develop the concept note drafting technique and maximize your organization’s chances of obtaining funding.

After finishing the course, you will:

  • Understand how to accurately read and interpret the call for proposals guidelines
  • Understand the criteria on which basis the European Commission will assess your proposal and how you can best respond to them
  • Understand how to adapt your own project to the guidelines of the call for proposals
  • Get new hints on how to draft an attractive and highly competitive concept note following the EC format
  • Obtain answers to the questions you always wanted to know

Our experienced instructor Erik Detiger has more than two decades of experience in fundraising and has raised over US$ 150 million for different organizations. In this course, he shares his inside experiences and lets you in on his best tricks.

About the author

Erik Detiger

Having raised over US$250 million for a wide range of organizations, Erik is an experienced development professional who brings three decades of experience in the field of international philanthropy. He lived in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United States working with the UN, civil society, as well as the private sector, leading large-scale projects in health, education, humanitarian relief, and human rights. As CEO of Philantropia Inc/BV, he advises many of the leading international development agencies. He is a board member and advisor to several charitable organizations and companies.

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4 years ago

Nice Post…

4 years ago

Thanks..its a very productive and educative post

Irene Ekema
Irene Ekema
3 years ago

Great Erik. !!Please for seminars & workshop in Cameroon on education, Humanitarian Relief & Emergency, Disaster Management,Sanitation, Recycling,Community Development, Health and Human Rights please kindly update us.

3 years ago

Hi Erik, loved the “humane ” course on writing skills for winning concept notes for EC projects. In Curacao (an overseas territory of the Netherlands) the Ministry of economic development has established an EU desk and we need more of these online courses for the EC complex procedures. There is an enormous need for our NGO’s , public and private sector as well as the civil society to built local capacity on how to write successful projects for the EC. This definitely helps us! Thanks.


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