What’s the Difference Between a Nonprofit Theory of Change and a Logic Model?

A nonprofit theory of change and logic model are two distinctly different tools that work together, yet are often confused. More often than not, an organization might think they are developing a theory of change, when in actuality, they are developing a logic model.

So, what is the difference between a nonprofit theory of change and a logic model?

A theory of change is the long-term goal for the broader social change you’re looking to achieve hand-in-hand with others in your ecosystem, and a map of all of the conditions that are needed to meet it. Developing a theory of change requires stakeholders to think outside of their day-to-day work and analyze all of the activities and outcomes that need to take place as the result of many organizations and entities working together.

A logic model is a graphical representation of your organization or program, from the resources and activities that will take place, to the deliverables and goals that the program or organization will produce. It is very specific to your organization and/or programs.

The exercises of creating a theory of change and/or a logic model can both be helpful to encourage systemic thinking and create alignment, while allowing your nonprofit stakeholders to collaboratively work through and experiment, in concept, with multiple scenarios. Both the theory of change and logic model should be regularly revisited and updated to allow for ongoing assessment.

Does my nonprofit need both a theory of change and a logic model?

The short answer is yes.

The development of a theory of change helps both internal and external stakeholders align about the broader social change you exist to contribute to and to see all of the things that must come to fruition in order for that change to be achieved. You can use the diagram to map your current programs to it and also use it to facilitate discussions about other areas where you may want to focus your efforts. 

The development of a theory of change helps stakeholders align about the broader social change you exist to contribute to and to see all of the things that must come to fruition in order for that change to be achieved. Click To Tweet

In addition to helping your nonprofit understand how your work plays a role in contributing to a broader social change, developing a theory of change can be useful if you’re looking to expand or reduce programs, or to partner or align efforts with others (it’s particularly helpful if you operate under an affiliated structure). There are also cases where multiple organizations in the same sector come together to develop a collaborative theory of change. Your theory of change should be developed first before moving on to create your nonprofit’s logic model.

A logic model is a more internal-facing tool because of its specificity to your organization, but is extremely helpful for creating alignment among leadership, staff and board about current and future program activities and goals.

A theory of change and logic model are each helpful on their own, but having both really allows your nonprofit to assess its role in the ecosystem and then the activities you’ll engage in day-to-day that will drive toward broader social change. Hopefully, this post clarifies some of the differences between these important nonprofit tools. If you need support developing them for your organization, Prosper can help! Contact us here.