Just as tulips pop up in the spring, so do grant opportunities. While each of them have a different template, most require a logic model. Logic models have been used since the 1970s, but gained popularity in the 1990s when United Way started using them with its agency partners. Logic models graphically express the step-by-step process of organizing appropriate resources and activities that then produce the intended outputs and outcomes of a program or organization. Internally, they can be used to monitor and evaluate work. Externally, the best logic models can summarize the purpose of a program in a way that a written statement cannot. As you refresh your logic models for all your grant applications, here are the top questions we receive about logic models and a bit of advice to get you started.

How often should a logic model be created or updated?
Logic models should be created or updated for new programs or existing programs that are undergoing change. Programs with long track records of success, those with a strong evidence base or those who follow quality improvement programs, like early childhood centers following NAEYC standards, are less likely to require updating on a frequent basis. However, logic models for programs that are experimental, for which the evidence base is still developing, should be reviewed regularly to ensure fidelity to the model or to make necessary course corrections. It is important to update logic models because it informs the evaluation plan staff use to determine what data needs to be collected at what intervals to demonstrate impact.

Who should the creation process include?
Creating or updating logic models is a team sport. It cannot be delegated to a single staff member to complete because multiple people are involved with the organization’s programs, including program staff who execute the services, management who set expectations and fundraising staff who report on program outcomes to donors and supporters. Creating or changing a logic model is akin to creating or changing a program. Staff from all areas of the organization need to be involved to ensure the program is feasible, the projected outcomes are realistic and the organization has a plan to capture data it needs to tell compelling stories.

We serve multiple populations. How do you make logic models easier to read?
While the original logic model from the 1990s is classic, we have found that in the 21st century, with the emphasis on community-building and two-generation programs, it needed a facelift. We created a “layered logic model” for many of our clients who are serving multiple populations (e.g., women and children) and/or have community-driven outcomes. It creates clarity about who you are impacting and what outcomes you expect for each population. Consider upgrading your logic model with this approach – you can find a template HERE.

What is the difference between inputs, activities and outputs?
Knowing the difference between all the logic model components – inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes and impact – can be confusing. Clarifying each piece is a question we get often. Specifically with respect to inputs, activities and outputs, we tell nonprofits to think of inputs as the raw ingredients of a recipe, the activities as the actions you take to create a meal and the outputs as the number of meals produced. In nonprofit language, inputs can be things like staffing, funding or curricula; activities include things like administering assessments, delivering classroom instruction or hosting counseling sessions; and outputs include number of children served and number of counseling sessions hosted. Remember: more activity does not equate a better logic model; list only activities that create the impact.

What differentiates a great logic model from an average one?
We have worked with many organizations on creating or improving their logic models, and the difference between a great and average one is that the reader can tell what the program does and which methods you need to achieve the stated outcomes. A great logic model is a roadmap that can help other organizations replicate the results of your program if they exported it to another site. It narrows the activities down to only the essential components and also helps streamline the data agencies need to collect to demonstrate impact. Ask someone unfamiliar with your program to look at your logic model and ask what they would expect to see. If they cannot accurately articulate what your program does, it may be time for a refresh.

As you submit grants this spring, we hope you will be inspired to take a look at your organization’s logic model and assess whether it is time for a refresh. Use this as a time to determine whether your programs are as impactful as you’d like and whether you have the right data to draw and communicate that conclusion. And as always, we’d love to hear what you come up with. Next week, we will be sharing our thoughts on an emerging trend – social intrapreneurship and why more nonprofits should be promoting it to cause-oriented employees.

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