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Nonprofit Logic Model

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

If you’re frustrated with trying to increase your donor base, strategic partnerships and membership, we have a proven tool that we use with our clients that can help.

It’s called a nonprofit logic model.

Building a nonprofit logic model will help your team target the outcomes that your mission needs to succeed (think donations, volunteers, etc.). It will also help you prioritize your work plan, and understand what you can say “no” to on a day-to-day basis.

Logic models are commonly thought of as nonprofit operations tools, but that’s not all they should be used for.

We’ll talk more about how logic models are foundational to a great communications strategy, help you generate more powerful messaging, and target the right audiences at the right time.

In this post, we’ll take you step-by-step on how to create your nonprofit logic model, and provide you the tools we use to do this with our clients.

What is a Nonprofit Fundraising Logic Model?

At the simplest level, a logic model is a way to map out your organization’s inputs (we’re going to call them activities), outputs and outcomes that are associated with your business.

Great! So what does that even mean?  

Simply put, think about what your organization needs to do its work. This could be money, volunteers, supplies, etc. These are inputs/activities.

After you complete you work, you are left with outputs and outcomes. These are the results of your work. There is a really critical difference between these two, even though they sound similar. We’ll get into that later in this post.

Before you go any further, copy our example Realtime Board nonprofit logic model template.

-- OR --

Download our Print Logic Model Template

Use this template to build your own nonprofit logic model as you go through this guide.

Defining Your Inputs/Activities

For this exercise, I created a fictitious organization that we can use as an example.

I’m calling my fictious organization “Clean-up And Restoration Team” - or CART for short.

EXAMPLE ORGANIZATION: CART is  a volunteer-driven environmental clean-up and restoration organization that uses volunteer labor to clean-up locations that have been left polluted by industrial companies. With volunteer crews they clean-up these locations and restore them using native species of plants.  

Inputs or activities are the things that we do everyday to make our mission run.  

In the case of CART (our fictitious example nonprofit), here are some example inputs:

  1. Volunteer Recruitment - The organization needs volunteer to participate in the clean-up and restoration process.

  2. Clean-up Site Acquisition & Scouting - These sites aren’t just coming out of nowhere.  Someone needs to find the abandoned sites, get permission to work on them, and then setup the logistics to actually do the work

  3. Volunteer Crew Leader Training - CART can’t just rely on a group of volunteers to run themselves. Crew leaders are vital to creating a safe, enjoyable and productive atmosphere for volunteers.

  4. Volunteer-driven Plant Nursery for Native Plant Species - CART has elected to raise their own native plant species so they can supply their teams with the plants that they need.

Rootid Sample Logic Model, CART

Realize that we’ve drastically simplified this for the sake of this post. Every organization is different, so if you have more than this, that’s normal.

Outputs vs. Outcomes

Before we talk about outputs, it’s important to understand how outputs are different from outcomes. 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, an outcome is the level of performance or achievement that occurred because of the activity or services your organization provided.

Here’s an example for CART: 

Output = The volunteer leader training program generated 5 new volunteer crew leads. 

Outcome = CART is expanding its clean-up program to 2 new regions, doubling the number of acres that are being cleaned-up and restored. 

Rootid Sample Logic Model, Outputs and Outcomes, CART

Here’s another way to look at it. This is really important to understand:

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

Outputs are direct results of your activities.

Logic Model Outputs

Now that we understand the difference between outputs and outcomes, here are the examples we created for CART, examples of outputs can be:

  1. Volunteer Recruitment Outputs Volunteers

  2. Site Scouting Outputs Clean-up Sites - CART has a pipeline of abandoned industrial sites that it can work on with volunteer leaders.

  3. Crew Leader Training outputs Volunteer Crew Leaders - The CART crew leader training program will directly output competent crew leaders that keep volunteers motivated, empowered and efficient at their work.

  4. Native Plant Nursery outputs Native Plants - The nursery program pumps out a lot plants that can be used at the clean-up locations

Is this making sense?  From this you can start to see how outputs are directly related to activities.

Rootid Sample Logic Model, Outputs and Activities, CART

Digging into Logic Model Outcomes

One thing that’s important to note about outcomes, is that often, multiple outputs can lead to a single outcome.  There doesn’t have to be a one-to-one connection.

For CART, examples of outcomes might be:

  1. Restored native habitat and ecosystems leads to clean drinking water sources for nearby population centers.

  2. Community members feel empowered to take a leading role in cleaning up and advocating for their local ecosystems.

Outcomes focus on impact to your clients or communities

This is a really important distinction.  

There are two other important elements to outcomes:

First, logic model outcomes are closely related to generating marketing messaging, which produces better marketing campaigns. We’ll dig into this shortly, but we’re starting to get closer to connecting the model with our marketing.

Secondly, logic model outcomes should always, always, always be measured so you can use those measurements in your marketing messaging.

Here’s an example of using outcomes to create better marketing messaging.

Consider two impact statements that you might find in a fundraising letter, or impact report:

“In 2018, CART empowered community volunteers to restore abandoned industrial waste sites and helped restore the quality of our drinking water.”

- Versus -

“In 2018, CART empowered 20,000 community volunteers to restore more than 1,200 square miles of abandoned industrial waste sites (that’s the size of Rhode Island!) and helped restore the quality of our drinking water to over a million people!”

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.

For example, the way CART recruits volunteers may be very different than the way you scout and acquire clean-up sites.  

When acquiring clean-up sites, CART may be interfacing with local governments officials or industrial business leaders to get permission to clean-up the site.

On the other hand, volunteer recruitment may target college kids at nearby schools.

Not only are these very different audiences requiring very different messaging, but the way that you find and communicate with these audiences require very different communications strategies.

Let’s continue with our audience assumptions for a second.  What would be a strategy for volunteer recruitment, knowing that you’re main demographic is college kids?

What about something like utilizing social media advertising targeting younger adults. So, a strategy may be digital advertising and online sign-ups.

In contrast, let’s talk about the strategy for industrial site scouting. Local government officials would require a one-to-one outreach and presentation. This could be at a local town hall meeting, or concerted lobbying to individual members, or perhaps using your network to make connections with these leaders.

You can see how these strategies differ drastically based on the activity, right?

Formulating a Blue Sky Statement To Connect the “Why”

How does this model make us better at nonprofit communications?

Remember, Outcomes help us formulate impact statements and messaging. Impact statements can help us communicate big ideas to our audiences.

We can continue to build on those impact statements by building what we call our blue sky statement. The blue sky statement sets out the vision for the organization.

As communication professionals you know how important vision statements can be. They help connect audiences to the “why.”

Meaning “why do you exist as an organization?”

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 communications professional.  If individuals can connect with why you exist as an organization, they are far more likely to get behind the “how you operate” part of the organization.

Our blue sky statement is a critical part of our elevator pitch as an organization, and a key to connecting with our audiences.

How Do Logic Models Help Prioritize Communications Work?

I said at the beginning this model will allow you to prioritize your work, and stop running around with your hair on fire, right?

Here’s how!

Because we know the relationship between inputs and outcomes, we know what strategies and inputs are priority based on the organization's strategic goals.

OK - there’s a lot going on there….

Imagine a situation where our fictitious organization, CART, has a goal to increase the number of acres cleaned up in 2 years. To do this, they need to double the number of clean-up sites in their pipeline.

Now that we understand our organizational logic model, we know that we need to ramp up the outreach work with local government officials. We also know that we need to implement campaign strategies and generate communications tools that our site recruitment team can use during their big push to acquire more sites.

We can do this with confidence based on our logic model.

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.

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.mca 

Let’s summarize:

  1. Prioritizing our marketing campaigns to generate the inputs inline with our organizational goals - we talked about prioritizing and focusing campaign 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 a 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.

Andrew Goldsworthy - Rootid Co-Founder

Andrew Goldsworthy

Andrew has over 15 years experience in user interface and online marketing strategy for social entrepreneurs and nonprofits. He has also worked extensively in fund development and online marketing for Habitat for Humanity. Andrew is passionate about using the power of technology to empower mission driven organizations and social business. He's also an avid outdoorsman. Frequently camping, skiing, fishing and fending off mosquitos.