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What Change Does Your Nonprofit Seek?

By Nell Edgington

Theory of ChangeWhat I love best about my job is opening nonprofit leaders to new and bigger possibilities. Last week was a busy one. I was in Phoenix for part of the week speaking at the Planned Giving Roundtable Conference and then I flew to New York to lead a board retreat at the National Guild for Community Arts Education.

When I am speaking to or leading a group, I love the moment when they move from discouraged, exhausted or burned-out, to energized by new ways of thinking.

At the Planned Giving Roundtable I delivered a keynote address about the power of a theory of change. A theory of change is such an incredible tool for helping a nonprofit articulate what value they provide the community. And once you have articulated that value, a theory of change is a jumping off point to:

  • Chart a strategic direction, which guides the action of the organization and focuses limited resources
  • Prove the results the organization is achieving, which allows the nonprofit to,
  • Attract more support, leading to the holy grail in the nonprofit sector,
  • Sustainable Community Change

So the theory of change serves as the fundamental building block in making that process happen, like this:

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Because the theory of change is so instrumental, I believe that every nonprofit organization that is working toward social change should have one. Without a theory of change, you don’t know what you are trying to accomplish, how you will get there, or whether you have accomplished it, and you certainly won’t attract the funding necessary to get there.

So once I (hopefully) convinced the group in Phoenix about the importance of a theory of change, I flew to New York City to help the board and staff of the National Guild for Community Arts Education actually develop their own theory of change.

It was so exciting to see the group work together to articulate how their organization puts community resources to work towards community change. It’s not easy to come to agreement about exactly what change an organization is working towards, which is why I think it is important to have an outsider leading that process.

At the end of the day, board and staff were energized and excited about their evolving theory of change and how it could help them chart a new strategic direction, focus resources, and attract more support and momentum.

That is the moment I love. When people who are so passionate and working so hard for community change, can take a step back and articulate how and why they do the work that they do. Because it is in taking that big step back that you can begin to develop a strategy for bringing hoped for change to fruition.

If you’d like to have me come speak to your board, staff, conference or event about a Theory of Change, check out my Speaking page, or email

Photo Credit: Dean Morley

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, 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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