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Nonprofit Logic Models: A Complete Guide to Building Better Fundraising and Communications Plans

A nonprofit logic model is one of the most versatile and useful tools you can have for any nonprofit strategic planning process.

Your organization can use logic models for strategic planning, operational resource planning, building a communications strategy, program service design and much, much more. 

However, if you’ve never built a logic model before, there are a few key elements that can help you successfully complete the task. That’s why we put together this guide to building a nonprofit logic model.

To get the most out of this guide, download our nonprofit logic model template and follow along.

logic model template

download our FREE template and nonprofit logic model example.

This template and the process outlined in this article are the exact tools and techniques we use with our nonprofit partners.

Overview to Build a Nonprofit Logic Model

At the simplest level, a logic model is a way to map out the activities and strategies that your organization performs to produce the outputs and outcomes that eventually lead to your mission work.

In short, this process helps connect the vision for your organization’s impact to the day-to-day operations of your organization.

Here are the 4 steps to the process:

  1. Define your Ultimate Impact and problem statement
  2. Outlining your activities and outputs
  3. Grouping activities into strategies
  4. Defining the outcomes that your strategies generate

Formulating a Blue Sky Statement To Connect the “Why”

Why does your nonprofit organization exist?

Let me give you a hint… it’s not just to deliver services.

As a nonprofit leader, there are values that are driving your mission work. These values and the ultimate impact they create are your “why.”

Your “why” or the underlying values of your organization should be the starting point of any strategic work you do, including when creating your logic model.

If you’ve ever heard of Simon Sinek’s TedTalk, “The Power of Why” you know this.

Answering “why” is actually one of the most important things that you can do as a nonprofit, and in the logic model exercise we use this “why” to create our Ultimate Impact statement. Your Ultimate Impact then becomes the big vision for the work that your organization does.

Now that we know why it’s important, let’s talk about how we create it.

Keys to writing your Ultimate Impact:

  • Consider a situation in which no barrier exist
  • Make sure it includes the vision for the future
  • Work with your team and stakeholders to formulate your Ultimate Statement

Formulating a Problem Statement

In addition to defining your Ultimate Impact, we need to define the problem that your work is solving. Without a well defined problem, your work has no context.

Here are three keys to clearly defining the problem that your organization solves:

  1. State the scale and scope of the problem – Is the problem local? International?  Who is affected and for how long? And, finally, what makes your organization uniquely qualified to resolve this problem.
  2. What is the result of the problem? – Think about how your constituents and the community are impacted by the problem and why they should care. For instance, if the problem is that groundwater is contaminated think about why this matters to your constituents. Is it that children’s health is being compromised? Is it that sportsmen can’t fish? Is it that the community can’t drink the water? 
  3. Why should the reader care – What motivates your constituents and supporters and try to build that into your problem statement?

Our “why” is often best defined by a problem that captures our hearts and feelings.

Defining Your Nonprofit Activities and Outputs

Simply put, activities are the work that your organization does. They are often connected with your organization programs.

Examples of activities could be things like services that you deliver, volunteer programs that you run, events or education services amongst other things.

The second part of this is to define all of the outputs that your activities generate.

Outputs are directly linked to activities that your organization performs.

What makes outputs unique is that they are discrete units of work that can usually be measured.

Some examples of outputs could be:

  • Number of students participating in a class
  • Number of environmental clean-up projects completed by volunteers
  • Number of clients served
  • Amount of event attendees

The activities and outputs can be recorded in our logic model template.

Grouping Activities into Strategies

Strategies are groupings of your activities.

Most nonprofits have 3 or 4 strategies that they use to accomplish their work.

Each strategy will have a direct outcome (to be talked about later in this article) associated with it. So, each strategy should lead to one outcome at a minimum. It’s important to note that strategies can lead to more than one outcome.

Outputs are directly linked to activities that your organization performs.

In order to group your activities into strategies, start to think about what common characteristics some of your activities have?

Some common strategies that we see a lot with our clients are:

  • Community or individual education
  • Connecting and convening
  • Thought leadership
  • Advocacy
  • Skills training
  • Capacity building
  • Many, many more!

Outputs vs. Outcomes

Before we talk about outcomes, it’s important to understand how they are different from outputs. This can be a bit confusing, so it’s worth taking time to clarify.

Put simply, outputs tell the story of what your organization produces. Outputs do not address the value or impact of your services.

On the other hand, outcomes are how the work you do impacts or effects the communities and individuals you serve. 

Whereas outputs can almost always be measured in a quantitative manner, outcomes can sometimes be qualitative. Learn more about quantitative versus qualitative measurement in our guide on building nonprofit measurement plans.

Another way to think about it:

Outcomes communicate the impact of your organization and how you impact your clients or those you serve. 

Outputs are direct results of your activities that can be measured.

Digging into Logic Model Outcomes

As mentioned before, outcomes are the impact that our work has on the communities and individuals who you serve.

There are important things to consider about outcomes:

First, logic model outcomes can be really helpful in generating your communications messaging. We’ll dig into this shortly, but remember that outcomes communicate impact and showing your impact helps to activate your community and engage new potential supporters.

Secondly, when using outcomes to tell a story, frame them in the context of who you are “speaking to.” Meaning, if you know your audience is motivated by the impact your work has on something specific, use that in your messaging.

In order to learn what motivates your audiences, consider starting the process of creating nonprofit personas.

Using a Logic Model For Nonprofit Communications Strategies

One of the things that makes Rootid’s logic model unique is the focus on strategies. 

This is important because it takes the logic model, which is often thought to be a nonprofit operations tool, and makes it a powerful communications tool.

Now that we know our inputs/activities, we can build communications strategies around them, and most importantly prioritize them.

When building strategies, it’s important to think about the audiences that you’re talking to and group them into nonprofit personas based upon their motivations.  

Who are they? What messages work for them? Where can we find them?

If you don’t know immediately, consider using stakeholder interviews or surveys to better define your audiences.

logic model template

download our FREE template and nonprofit logic model example.

How does the logic model make us a better nonprofit communications professional?

By now you should see how the logic model helps make you a better nonprofit communications professional.

At a basic level, it creates clarity for you, and for your marketing strategy.

Let’s summarize:

  1. Prioritizing our marketing campaigns to generate the inputs inline with our organizational goals – we talked about prioritizing and focusing campaigns based on the order of inputs you need to succeed. We also talked about focusing on specific tools and strategies based on the audiences we need to generate the inputs that we need.
  2. Outcomes generate better messaging – we talked about how outcomes should be measured to generate better messaging. We also talked about how outcomes focus on impact, and impact is going to be what gets audiences excited about supporting your work.

  3. Blue sky statements acquire & build loyal supporters – we talked about how blue sky statements answer the question “why.” Why do you exist? Why should people care? Once an individual gets behind the vision, they can become a loyal advocate.

How does the Logic Model Help Us Measure Impact

Making data-driven decisions with your communications strategies is a must!

We saw earlier how measuring outcomes creates more effective marketing messaging. 

Knowing that, commiting to measuring outputs and outcomes is critical at an organizational level. Not only will they help in your marketing process, but they will also help generate better impact messaging.

So how do we do that?

Here are some steps to help you measure impact better:

  1. Describe the outcomes you want to achieve (why do you perform the process or service in the first place?).

  2. Turn the identified outcomes into a quantitative measure (i.e. % of clients demonstrating new behavior, % of clients coming back into treatment, etc.).

  3. Confirm that your desired outcomes are actually linked to your outputs or activities.  In other words, ensure that it is reasonable to expect your desired outcomes to be achieved based on your activities.

  4. Implement these measures and track them over time.

  5. Demonstrate and increase your success because you have the data to confidently and appropriately communicate your impact and value.