March 1, 2018

I didn’t always like logic models: I thought they were just another attachment-hoop funders wanted us to jump through on our way to Grantland.  But I’ve become a true believer and hope that by the end of this post, you’ll be one too!

Logic models help nonprofit leaders run better programs – and over the lifetime of an organization, well-designed programs are needed to win grants (Plus, logic models help grant writers understand new programs before they start writing… saving us all some valuable time and effort!)

So let’s start off with what a logic model is, why your organization needs one for every program, and how you can create one.

What is a Logic model?

Logic models are tools that help you understand how effective programs are designed.

The Kellogg Foundation defines a logic model as, “a systematic and visual way to present and share your understanding of the relationships among the resources you have to operate your program, the activities you plan, and the changes or results you hope to achieve.”

At Elevate, we typically incorporate a theory of change in our logic models, to show how Activities and Changes directly relate to each other. We’ll talk more about what that means a little later in this post.

  • You’ll want to use your logic model during program planning to clarify strategy, identify appropriate outcome targets, set priorities for your resources, and to identify necessary partnerships to achieve your goals.
  • You can use it when fundraising to justify why the program will work and explain how investments will be used.
  • You can use it during stakeholder orientation to show how different organizations will work together.
  • You can use it during evaluation to document your accomplishments and identify differences between the ideal program and its implementation.

To help you get started, you can download Elevate’s Logic Model template below:


When putting together your own logic model, you can use either forward logic or reverse logic.

With forward logic:

  • You begin with the activities on the left side. 
  • This approach is driven by But Why? questions or If-Then logic, which will help you move forward from left to right.
  • This approach explores the rationale for activities that are proposed or currently under way.

With reverse logic:

  • You begin with the outcomes you hope to achieve on the right side. 
  • By asking a series of But How? questions, you’ll start with a clearly identified change that you and your colleagues would definitely like to see occur on the right side, and move backwards.
  • This approach begins with the end in mind.

These are your resources; what you have. Examples might include: time, money, reputation, board, expertise. These are resources you will always have, regardless of the specifics of your programs.


These are the key elements of your program, what you do and how you do it.  So, for a mentoring program this might be that students meet with their mentor once a week, talk with their mentor twice a week and come to an entire org event once a month.  It is what defines your program, the things you do!


This is the quantitative evidence of your program and the activities you implement.  So, for a mentoring program this might be that the organization has 20 mentees, 25 mentors and 5 whole organization activities. These are quantitative and detail what are actually doing.

Theory of Change

The theory of change is not necessarily part of your logic model – though we think incorporating the ideas behind a theory of change can help strengthen the content of your logic model.

Put simply, a theory of change is a researched-based, tested explanation for how your inputs lead to your outputs.  How your program design will lead to the change you want. An effective theory of change relies on tested assumptions and an effective strategy.

The reason we added theory of change in our logic model is because it gives you a clear representation of where theory of change happens.  Specifically, it occurs right on that line that divides Outputs from Outcomes; here, you’re illustrating your belief that your activities and outputs will lead to the outcomes (change) you want to see.

As explained by the Catholic relief services, “When theories of change are well captured in logical or results frameworks, program managers can use them to articulate what programs are trying to achieve and what they think needs to happen to get there.” Laying your logic model out using this framework this really explains how your program is designed to work. It also makes it very easy to change if something isn’t working.  If you don’t achieve the outcomes you want, you need to understand if your theory of change is flawed or if you lack fidelity to your model.

Ideally, your theory of change is based on evidence that your activities will lead to the results you want.  For example, if mentoring a student, you could have the mentor meet with the student once a month or once a week. To decide you would have to research the best practices to achieve the greatest results. This of course comes from a lot of research! You need to stay up to date about your issue area and the best practices in the field.


Finally, this section illustrates the change that comes about because of your work.  It is what you achieve.  It is really important that these are measurable.  If they aren’t, there is no way to prove your impact.

Outcomes are split into three different levels.

First are short-term outcomes that are changes in knowledge, attitude or skills.  For a mentoring organization an example of this would be 75% of students increase their reading scores by 2 points (as measured by the reading scores provided by the school).

Second are mid-term outcomes, which are changes in behavior or actions.  For a mentoring organization an example of this would be 75% of students showing increased promotion and graduation rates relative to peers; improved self-efficacy (as measured by General Self-Efficacy Inventory).

Third and finally are long-term outcomes, which are changes in quality of life.  For a mentoring organization an example of this would be 50% college enrollment or post-graduate training.

Now that we’ve reviewed all the parts of a logic model, you can use a logic model as a tool to improve and fine-tune your program design, and highlight these changes in your grant proposals!

  • More than any other components of a logic model, you have the most control over your activities. They’re what you choose to do!  Therefore, the best programs are based on a deep understanding of what works and has worked in the past to bring about the change they want to see.
  • Research, research, research to ensure that both your theory of change and specific program design elements rely on best practices.
  • Select strong evaluation tools and instruments to make your logic model as compelling and clear as possible.

Download your free Logic Model template!

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