If a logic model is your organization’s roadmap to evaluate its impact, then a theory of change is your compass. Theory of change is a relatively new concept – it evolved over the last decade as a tool for social entrepreneurs to evaluate the impact of social programs. Now, according to research by the Innovation Network, over half of nonprofits utilize a theory of change and almost 80 percent crafted (and re-crafted) one in the past year.

For data geeks, theory of change is a hypothesis about the causal relationship between “what impact you expect” and “how you can achieve it.” For marketers, it is a headline that answers the critical question “why should I care?” and can spark the interest of investors.

To construct a theory of change, begin with your logic model and review its underlying major assumptions:

  • What are your short-term and long-term outcomes for the program/organization?
  • What must occur in order to achieve each long-term outcome?
  • If your hypothesis is correct, what is the ultimate outcome for the community?
  • How does your theory of change relate to the organization’s vision and mission?

A theory of change often employs an actual or implied “if/then” statement to state its purpose.

Example: By offering a financial workshop program to its target group, the XYZ Organization aims to improve knowledge and attitudes about the American financial system and change financial behavior, which will improve the target group’s economic situation and in turn that of their families and communities.

As you learn more about your target population and the program through evaluation, your organization can and should refine its theory of change. A good theory of change should summarize your logic model and synopsize your overall program. A great theory of change will also inspire staff and possible investors to champion your initiative.

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