Monday, May 12, 2014

Understanding Logic Models

Many grant applications require a formally presented logic model. Beyond that, logic models should be developed for every program as an in-house quality control tool. They can even be used to qualify prospective grant partners.

What is a logic model?
The easiest way I have found to explain it is that it is your program development blueprint or roadmap. Essentially, it provides a visible model of how your program efforts will result in reaching or supporting your mission goals.

There are many physical formats for the visual presentation. Documents, flow charts, spreadsheets  and slideshow-style presentations are the most common. I have found that the easiest way for most people to start is with an outline format in a word document. The visuals may be defined by a grantor in a different manner but any word document will generally translate well to any format

Content is king.

Regardless of what visual format you use, the content is the key ingredient. A beautiful picture frame with nothing more than a dirty piece of cloth in it doesn't usually rank highly as art.

The key element of a logic model is to show that your program is achievable, measurable and verifiable as to outcomes and impacts. It is nothing more than a step-by-step explanation of how your program will function.

Most logic models start with the resources and inputs needed to operate the program. That can include both monetary and human resources. For instance, you may need $10,000 dollars for materials, but you may also need trained personnel. It is nothing more than a list of what you have on hand or need to acquire to run the program. It is usually structured by defining what you will do and what you need to begin, and then provides criteria for measuring results.

What sections do you need?

The first section (Input) defines what you need just to get started. The following sections deal with what happens once you have that input secured. An outline for a program could look like this:

Program Name:   Remedial reading assistance for grade-school students

1. Required Inputs to provide tutorial assistance to 30 students per school year

·         Human resources = 10 qualified volunteer tutors
·         Monetary resources = $10,000 for books and paper supplies, rent, transportation and background checks
·         Suitable area for tutoring – minimum 600 square feet rented or donated
·         A curriculum for reading improvement

In other words, you need these things before you can go on to the next step, the activities that will be provided.  At this first step you might want to note or sub-list influencing factors, i.e. obstacles or assets such as whether you need to apply for grant funding, whether that funding will coincide with the start of the school year, should you approach the community for donated space or rent space and can you  recruit qualified volunteers. Obviously, if you don't have the means to go forward, that would be your immediate focus.

The next step would be to outline the activities that will be used to achieve your desired outcome.

2.  Activities (also called plan of action):

·         Assess each child's level of competency and divide into groups of three.
·         Assign the appropriate curriculum and tutor to address each groups need.
·         Hold twice-weekly one-hour sessions after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays
·         Relate reading activities to every-day life by having children read labels, signs or simple directions.
·         Have children real aloud for once each week.

The next sections of the logic model deal with results. Typically the next three headings would be Outputs, Outcomes and Impact, in that order. For instance, outputs would be how many of the target group of 30 signed up, and how many completed the program. Outcomes would be how many met or exceeded current grade-level proficiency. Impact would be following up with the students to see if they continued to progress and maintained grade-level  proficiency in the next school year or beyond.

Other benefits

At each step, the logic model should provide a chance to develop  some sort of" if>then" scenario. If we only get $8,000 then we can only enroll 20 students. If we only get 50% of the students to grade-level, then we need to evaluate the curriculum and the tutors. If we only get five qualified tutors then we need to do more community outreach and recruitment. In other industries, this is called contingency or variability planning.

Why you can't ignore the process

The larger the grant and the more competition there is, the more important a logic model will become. If you are chasing a relatively small local family foundation for less than $5,000, you may be able to condense a formal model into a few paragraphs or headings. The more zeroes you add, the more detail is required.

While these five categories usually cover the basic structure of a logic model, some grantors will also require that you document the contingency planning for a new program. The models can also be weighted  toward theory, activities and outcomes.

Beyond the obvious relationship to money, producing a program logic model will serve to keep your organization focused and efficient. Far too many people come to me with only step 2 and 3 developed. I can't present that to a grantor, so then we have to assemble the rest of the pieces. Why not do it before you need the money?  If you need help, you can contact me at

Coming Soon! "When should you consider Federal grants?" A new handout for growing nonprofits. 

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