By Elizabeth Schuster, Environmental Economist
I was recently at a conference and a presenter said, “Who enjoys logic models?” Logic models are another word for Theory of Change – and I proudly raised my hand. I looked around the room and saw that I was in a distinct minority. It seems that not a lot of nonprofit leaders enjoy doing theories of change.
I’d like to see that sentiment change, so I’m sharing some of my favorite secrets that I usually share with clients at our goal-setting retreats. I believe that a theory of change is a hidden tool that can help nonprofits become more strategic, have greater positive impact, and get more funding.
I want nonprofit leaders to have the tools they need to succeed.
Similar to many of you, I also had an initial dislike for theories of change. But over time, I realized it was based upon misunderstandings. In this blog I’ll provide my lessons learned from over a decade of working with nonprofit strategic planning, including:
- General information to clarify the basic definition and purpose of theories of change.
- Examples of why it helps nonprofits to have a well-crafted theory of change.
- The 4 most common areas nonprofits get it wrong – and what you can do differently to get better results.
Overview and context
In a nutshell, a theory of change shows how resources can be applied to solve problems in the short-term, and the pathway those actions will likely follow to result in long-term outcomes.
“[A theory of change] is focused in particular on mapping out or ‘filling in’ what has been described as the ‘missing middle’ between what a program or change initiative does (its activities or interventions) and how these lead to desired goals being achieved,” according to the Center for the Theory of Change.
Many different names exist for the general concept of a theory of change. We may call them logic models, means-ends diagrams, or situation or conceptual models – to name a few.
PRO-TIP: While there are subtle differences in the various names, at the end of the day, don’t get hung up on the language. What matters is that the approach that your organization chooses is useful for your organization.
Two examples of catering the use of theories of change to meet the unique needs of your nonprofit: