Introduction to Logic Models
This post is part of our Evaluation Foundations series, where we walk through different aspects of evaluation planning to support organizations in preparing and building capacity for strong evaluation. Check out the previous posts on theory of change and stay tuned for posts on evaluation plans and more!
Logic models are gaining more and more popularity. In fact, many grantors are now requiring nonprofits to submit their logic models with grant applications, and for good reason. A logic model connects your resources, activities, and outcomes, helping you clearly define and communicate why you do what you do to staff and board members, funders, and the community. Logic models also serve as a foundation for evaluating your programs so you can see how you’re making a difference in the community.
What is a logic model?
A logic model is a connection between what your organization needs, does, and how it changes the world. My favorite logic model definition comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Logic Model Development Guide (highly recommended resource!), which states a logic model is:
Why does your organization need a logic model?
Every organization needs a logic model (even a simple sketch of one!) to ensure they understand how their activities and outcomes connect. There have been countless stories of organizations that find out the activity they are engaging in doesn't actually make the change they were hoping (e.g., hoping to improve educational outcomes by building schools no one uses). However, by developing a logic model and measuring the effect of your activities, your organization can confirm your activities work or make changes until you find what works.
Logic models are incredibly versatile tools that can be used for:
Designing your program/organization
If you are starting a new program or organization, a logic model can guide you in determining what activities are best for making the changes you’d like to see in the community, as well as the resources you will need to effectively implement those activities.
Implementing your program/organization
Logic models can help you implement your program by ensuring the activities you engage in align with your intended outcomes. They can also support you in evaluating whether your program was implemented as planned.
Evaluating your program/organization
Logic models are the foundation of an evaluation plan, as they show the processes (i.e., outputs) and outcomes that are important to measure. With process evaluation, your organization can measure whether your programs were correctly implemented, including the numbers you aimed to serve, dosage of services, etc. With outcomes evaluation, you can gauge whether your services made the difference you were hoping to see.
Communicating with funders and supporters
I consistently use organizations’ logic models to clearly communicate with potential funders and supporters through grant applications and marketing efforts (e.g., website content, social media, newsletters, annual reports). A logic model shows how your organization is going to achieve its mission, which is important for your supporters and funders to understand. It also helps you keep language consistent for your communications strategies.
Communicating with staff and board members
Staff and board members need to have a clear understanding of what your organization does and why, in addition to what resources are needed to support it all. Logic models are great tools for orienting new staff and board members to your organization, keeping existing staff and board members on the same page, and program planning on the executive and staff level.
Parts of a logic model
The first part of a logic model is a theory of change statement, which you can read more about here. This statement sets the overall tone of your logic model, answering the overarching “Why”, “How”, and “For Whom” of your organization.
For the rest of the logic model, there are a TON of different layouts and outlines you can choose from to create your logic model. However, I believe you can get the most out of the following model (adapted from Kellogg, again, highly recommended resource) which you can download here!
Inputs, also called resources, are what your organization needs in order to complete the activities you’ve outlined. This category often includes things like funding, staff/volunteers, systems for engaging in the work (e.g., client intake process and forms, referral strategy, etc.), systems for data tracking and evaluation (e.g., excel spreadsheet, paid data system, etc.), partnerships with stakeholders, equipment, etc.
For the inputs section you can typically be as detailed or general as you need to be, but it is a helpful exercise to regularly ask yourself if there is anything else you need that could help you accomplish your activities.
Activities are what your program does—the interventions or tasks or services you engage in to make your intended changes in your community. This explains what you will do in order to address the problems you see in the community (i.e., your needs statement).
Writing out all of your activities really helps show what directly makes your intended community changes, what indirectly supports your intended community changes, and what doesn’t align with your intended community changes. Sometimes organizations pick an activity that they think will make a positive impact in the community, but don’t necessarily align with their intended program changes. Developing a logic model can help you identify those areas and decide whether to broaden your mission or refine your activities.
Outputs are the proof that you engage in the activities. Many organizations track outputs—these are things like the number of people served, the number of services delivered, the dosage of service delivery (e.g., number of hours or sessions), etc. Outputs show that services were delivered, but do not necessarily capture the changes those services made.
Identifying outputs helps organizations implement their services and determine directions for growth. Outputs are often also associated with goals and can help organizations set goals. By increasing the number of people you serve, the number of services delivered, or the dosage of service delivery, your organization can plan how you want to expand. Outputs are also what your program can track and measure to engage in process evaluation (i.e., ensuring your program is implemented as intended), which is a critical step before you can understand how your program makes a difference in the community.
Outcomes show the short-term changes your activities make with the individuals or community served. These are often changes in behavior, knowledge, or skills for the population served within 1-3 years or 4-6 years of service delivery, depending on your program's length of service delivery.
Identifying your intended outcomes helps your program show why you engage in each of your activities. Outcomes are an important tool for communicating with staff, board members, funders, and the community why you do what you do. This becomes part of your outcomes evaluation, which shows how your program makes a difference.
Impacts are the long-term or community-level changes that happen because of your activities. These are typically changes that won’t be seen until your program has been implemented for several years.
Identifying your impacts is critical for the big picture of your organization. This is what your organization means to the community in the long-term, which is important for communication. Impacts are the driving force of most nonprofits, and these impacts can later on help you develop a long-term impact evaluation.
Want to learn how to create a logic model for new or existing programs? Check out our post on How to Create a Logic Model!
I’m Amanda Wallander Roberts, MSSW, a consultant passionate about building fundraising and evaluation capacity with social organizations. I’ve helped over 60 social service organizations fundraise and evaluate programs, including raising over $22 million and developing more than 50 logic models, evaluation plans, and process maps. Learn more about my services or contact me for support today!