Logic Models vs. Theory of Change AKA: how to get to a puppy filled meadow

By Jessica Payne and Jan Schwaid

You’re standing at the foot of a massive journey through the woods along an unsteady path, faced with every obstacle imaginable: brambles, clouds of stinging insects, savage beasts, plain old exhaustion. Reaching the end of this odyssey seems nearly impossible; there’s simply too much standing in your way. Though you know the trail ends in the most beautiful, serene meadow, filled with puppies and pots of gold, the obstacles seem insurmountable. How will you ever make it?

Let’s back up a moment – we promise we’ll get back to the meadow full of puppies.

Today, we’re chatting about Theory of Change, which sounds like it might be a cool new indie band- and if it isn’t yet, we’d like dibs on the name.

 Logic Models (LMs) are often used to evaluate and map out a non-profit’s services. An LM helps identify the goals of an organization in a concrete way, then illustrates what needs to happen to achieve said goals. However, it does not show why each activity will produce the desired outcome, but it does make a great visual and LMs are a common way of showing how an organization works. .

In comparison, Theory of Change (TOC) dives a little deeper. TOC begins with a long-term outcome, and then works backward by mapping out what steps need to come into play to achieve this ultimate goal. It shows how and why activities and actions will have certain effects.

At Mockingbird Analytics, we focus on TOCs first. The non-profits we work with are generally smaller and have a less defined structure. Having a TOC can help a fledgling organization set up firm goals and truly flesh out their program model. The benefits of a TOC are twofold: it helps the organization itself determine best practices internally, and it proves the organization’s worth to external stakeholders, potential clients, and/or funders.

Let’s go back to our nature hike. The trek will be long and hard, and that can be overwhelming. However, if you just take it one step at a time, focusing on how getting through each obstacle progresses your journey, it becomes much more manageable. That’s what a TOC does – breaks up a seemingly insurmountable goal into bite-size pieces. Each activity leads to the next, and having achievable goals can do wonders for company morale.  It’s really like having a map.

Another benefit of having a TOC is, often, the head of a non-profit or founder, may feel as though he or she is taking on the world alone, as though the weight of the organization is completely on his or her shoulders. But why face it all alone? To harp on our hike metaphor, why travel alone when others could help bat away mosquitoes, ward off beasts, or prop you up when you cannot take another step? Having a clear TOC helps the executive director delegate the smaller tasks. Creating this TOC alongside staff helps everyone feel connected, creates a sense of trust in the missions and community, and unites goals in a real, concrete way.

Once a non-profit can articulate this process, it also becomes much easier to apply for funding, justify expenses, and tell the story of the work the organization wants to do.

Mockingbird Analytics is here to help you create the TOC that will propel you toward your goals, organize the flurry of activities, and tell the story of your current and future goals. Our experience with growing non-profits and adapting to different client populations gives us the means to help your organization reach its fullest potential. As the trail looms on in the distance, we’re here to help you and your team develop a plan of action, one step at a time.

Just please be sure to Instagram us some cute puppy shots when you get to that meadow.