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Articulating Your Nonprofit’s Value Through a Theory of Change

By Nell Edgington



If you want to raise more money, chart a strategic direction, make your nonprofit more effective, get your board engaged, and achieve your mission, you need a theory of change. A theory of change is basically an argument for how your nonprofit turns community resources (money, volunteers, clients, staff, materials) into positive change in the community. Articulating this simple argument can dramatically increase your nonprofit’s effectiveness and financial sustainability. In order to help your nonprofit create a theory of change, I’m delighted to announce that we are releasing today our newest Step-by-Step Guide, Creating a Theory of Change.

More and more donors and board members want to understand how the nonprofit they are involved with creates social change. A theory of change helps your nonprofit do that.

A theory of change can strengthen your nonprofit in many ways:

  • As the backbone of a case for support or other fundraising collateral. With a theory of change, you can articulate the impact you are working to achieve, in a compelling way.
  • To revise the vision and mission of your organization, making them stronger and more compelling.
  • As a filter for new opportunities as they arise. Do new opportunities fit within your theory of change? If not, perhaps you should not pursue them.
  • To guide your strategic planning process. If you understand the organization’s overall theory of change and what you exist to do, it is much easier to chart a future course.
  • To get board members and other volunteers, friends and supporters engaged, committed, and excited about your work. If people understand the bigger picture, they will be more inclined to give more time, energy, and other resources to the work.
  • To help staff understand how their individual roles and responsibilities fit into the larger vision of the organization. This can increase staff morale, productivity, communication and overall commitment to the organization.

The Creating a Theory of Change Guide is organized around the parts of a Theory of Change. In each of the 8 sections of this guide there is a series of questions, which you will answer. Your answers to these questions become the basis for your final theory of change.

The sections of the guide are:

  1. Community Need
  2. Inputs
  3. Activities
  4. Outputs
  5. Outcomes
  6. Impact
  7. Final Theory of Change
  8. Next Steps

You can find out more about the Creating a Theory of Change guide here. And for information on our other Step-by-Step Guides, like the Financing Plan Guide, Business Plan Guide, or Case for Investment Guide, check out our Tools page.

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (www.socialvelocity.net), a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.


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1 Comment to Articulating Your Nonprofit’s Value Through a Theory of Change

[...] why things didn’t turn out the way you had anticipated. Did things go wrong because your theory of change was wrong or because your idea wasn’t implemented correctly? Note that in order to answer [...]

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