Giving Compass' Take:

• Stanford Social Innovation Review explores the "theory of change" concept (finding causal links from an organization's mission to its actions), and a five-step guide to success.

• From engaging outside stakeholders to tracking results, these tips are useful for a wide range of social enterprises. How well are we staying aligned with our visions?

• Here are some ways to manage power and privilege in philanthropy.

The idea that nonprofits should develop a theory of change has been widely embraced in recent years, and funders have helped drive the momentum. In fact, many funders now require that nonprofits submit a theory of change document with grant requests for all the reasons Paul Brest outlined in his seminal article, “The Power of Theories of Change.”


But what is a theory of change exactly? It’s an articulation, whether in the form of an explanatory memo or a diagram, and often combining both, of precisely how an organization is going to achieve its objectives. A good theory of change details the causal links between an organization’s vision and its own programmatic activities.

The problem with the theory of change process is that many organizations don’t do it well. As a result, it doesn’t produce the kind of robust critique of programs and insights about improvements to make that it should.These five steps can help ensure that the process is successful:

  1. Engage outside stakeholders.
  2. Include your board and staff.
  3. Bring in an outside facilitator.
  4. Clearly define the outcomes that will spell success.
  5. Track your results rigorously.

Theories of change can be an incredibly effective tool for refining your mission and your means of working toward it, as well as measuring your impact and proving your impact to funders and other stakeholders. It also helps ensure that you are maximizing your organization’s precious resources. Putting the time into doing it right is a wise investment that will serve your organization well for years to come.

Read the full article about the change process by Kathleen Kelly Janus at Stanford Social Innovation Review.