Nonprofits and NGOs of all sizes work to address enormous and complex social challenges. Their mission statements define their reason for being and often reflect big aspirations—ending homelessness, halting climate change, achieving racial equity. While an important source of motivation and inspiration, these missions are typically so broad that they can encompass almost any combination of programs and activities. That means they aren’t particularly well suited to help nonprofit leaders address their central challenge: figuring out how to make the biggest difference possible with the resources available to them. That’s where strategy comes in.

Strategy is all about getting critical resource decisions right—allocating time, talent, and dollars to the activities that have the greatest impact potential. Developing a clear, effective strategy can be a long process and often involves difficult tradeoffs. To smooth the path, we believe it is important to agree on your organization’s intended impact and theory of change.[1]

Intended impact defines the results your organization will hold itself accountable for achieving within a reasonable timeframe (e.g., 5–10 years). It specifies WHO your population of focus is, WHERE your organization will do its work, and WHAT specific outcomes you want to achieve. Theory of change explains HOW your organization will achieve that impact—the approaches you will undertake and the other actors you will work with or alongside.

Read the full article about intended impact and theory of change by Lindsey Waldron, Butch Trusty, Preeta Nayak, Yvonne Bettancourt at Bridgespan Groups.