Nonprofit Matters - Dr. B.J. Bischoff


Use a logic model to tell your story

A logic model is a simple, visual way for the leadership of a nonprofit organization to show how its available resources and program activities relate to the overall results it hopes to achieve in the community. Generally presented as a one-page diagram, the logic model has become a commonly used method for clarifying how a nonprofit’s programs will successfully create change.

As more funders are requiring that nonprofits develop logic models to show the connection between the activities they fund and desired outcomes, it is becoming increasingly important for local nonprofits to develop logic models that define their programs.

A logic model starts with a problem statement that provides a description of the societal problem a nonprofit’s program is designed to solve. The problem statement answers the question, What community problem does my program solve? After clearly defining a problem statement, the next part of the logic model involves identifying assumptions and theories related to why the community problem exists and how it might be solved.

To develop these assumptions, nonprofit leaders generally review current research related to the problem. Then, the nonprofit identifies environmental factors that cause this societal problem, including political, economic, social, cultural, and geographical trends and realities.

After developing this foundation, the nonprofit’s leaders can begin to identify how their organization can solve the community problem through its efforts. The next step is to identify the resources the nonprofit has or can obtain to solve the problem. Examples of resources include people, time, dollars, space, technology, materials, and community relationships. Based on the availability of these resources, the nonprofit can begin to identify the activities in which it will engage to solve the community problem. These activities define the nonprofit’s programming and could include counseling or training or animal rescue.

Then, it’s time to identify the specific outputs, or tangible results, which will happen as a result of the nonprofit’s programming. These outputs could include youth graduating from high school or immigrants learning English.

Finally, an effective logic model identifies long-term and short-term outcomes that the community will realize as a result of the nonprofit’s successful programming. These outcomes could include homeless individuals moving into stable housing, or fewer criminal convictions.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, through its Upstream Investments initiative, requires that nonprofit organizations applying for their programs to be included on the Upstream Investments portfolio of evidenced-based programs submit logic models with their applications. Marla Stuart, director of the Sonoma County Human Services Department Information Integration Division and leader of the county’s Upstream Investments program, said, “Logic models are the foundation of sound program design, delivery, and evaluation. At their best, they summarize and communicate our complex programs and impacts for our staff, clients, funders, legislators and our community.”

According to Stuart, the benefits to a nonprofit for having a logic model include the following: (1) keeps the nonprofit focused on achieving outcomes; (2) helps clarify program rationale; (3) summarizes the nonprofit’s theory of change; (4) demonstrates accountability; and (5) summarizes complex programs to streamline communication with stakeholders.

Sonoma Valley nonprofits that invest the time to develop a simple and clear one-page logic model for their programs will undoubtedly find that the people they serve and the individuals and organizations that fund them will value that investment.

Dr. B.J. Bischoff is the owner of Bischoff Performance Improvement Consulting, a Sonoma firm specializing in building the capacity of nonprofit organizations and public sector agencies to better serve their stakeholders. She is President of Impact100 Sonoma and leads the Sonoma Valley Presidents Council. She serves on the Sonoma Upstream Investments Portfolio Review Committee as an appointee of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. Contact her at bjbischoff@bjbischoff.com.

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