Creating a Theory of Change Step-by-Step Guide
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.
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.
This guide is organized around the 6 parts of a Theory of Change. In each section 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.
To begin, gather board and staff together and create a 6-column table for the group to fill in. Write the groups’ answers to the questions in a bulleted format. Once you’ve gone through the exercise of creating a theory of change with the group, you will want someone to take it away and make it more concise. You are ultimately making an argument with your Theory of Change, so in the end, your Theory of Change should have a logical flow, as opposed to a series of answers to questions. Your nonprofit’s Theory of Change cannot be developed in just a day, by 1 or 2 people. You will need to get feedback and insight from staff and board, and potentially external stakeholders.
The final step is to have your board, as the organization’s governing body, review, add input to and officially approve the organization’s Theory of Change. As a nonprofit, your Theory of Change clearly articulates what you exist to do and how, so you must agree, as an organization, to that theory.
The sections of this guide are:
7. Final Theory of Change
8. Next Steps
Upon purchase, you will be emailed a link to download the PDF guide for creating a Theory of Change.