Logic Models: An Overview

Putting strategy into action.

The strategic infrastructure of a nonprofit organization consists of:

  • An articulation of its mission.
  • Well-defined goals or outcomes.
  • A theory of change or causal model outlining each step necessary to achieve those goals.
  • A logic model or strategic plan showing how the organization will implement the theory of change.
  • A description of how the organization will track progress as it implements the logic model and how it will assess success in achieving its goals.
  • A business plan showing how the organization will gain and marshal its resources to implement the logic model.

Mission. A mission statement is an evocative encapsulation of the organization’s goals—for example, “improving the wellbeing and life opportunities of teenage girls.” It provides a benchmark for assessing proposed initiatives and for ensuring that changes in the organization’s goals are conscious rather than the result of drift.

Goals or outcomes. The test of a well-defined goal is that one can describe it with sufficient clarity so that others, including observers from outside the organization, would be able to assess the extent to which the organization had achieved the goal. While “improving the wellbeing and life opportunities of teenage girls” is a fine mission statement, it does not meet the criterion for a well-defined goal: It is too vague for anyone, including the organization’s CEO and board, to know whether and to what extent the goal was achieved. Examples of well-defined goals in pursuit of the organization’s mission might be “reducing unplanned pregnancies” or “reducing sexually transmitted infections” within the population it serves. The goal would be even better defined if the organization specified targets; but reduction suffices, especially if the organization has some baselines from which it can measure change. A goal is often a positive restatement of a particular problem the organization seeks to address (for example, the problem of unplanned pregnancies).

Theory of change or causal model. A theory of change is a comprehensive description of the theory that underlies all or part of an organization’s work. For a teen pregnancy prevention program, the essence of the theory of change might be:

Providing adolescents—boys as well as girls—with comprehensive, medically accurate sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information and services increases their ability to make informed decisions. This leads to the delayed onset of sexual activity and increased use of contraception, which in turn lead to a reduction in unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Increasing adolescents’ decision making and communication skills and their self-esteem 1 From the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation 2003 Annual Report. 1 and confidence leads to their having a more positive view of themselves and their futures, to the ability to negotiate sexual relations, and to improved school performance and retention.

As a goal implicitly describes the problem the organization seeks to address, a theory of change or causal model contains an implicit analysis of the causes of, or at least possible solutions to, the problem. In this case, for example, the theory of change assumes that unplanned teen pregnancies are at least partly the result of inadequate information and lack of self-esteem.

At the very least, the theory of change should be empirically plausible. At best, it should have been previously evaluated by social scientists and shown to be robust.