Theory of Change Sample Projects

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Grantee Capacity Building

After developing its own theory of change, the Bella Vista Foundation decided to invest in building grantee capacity using the same approach as a way to increase the foundation’s ability, down the road, to evaluate its social impact. Leaders felt that an early step was to help grantees clarify their intended impact and boost their capacity to evaluate and learn which of their activities led to the desired outcomes. The foundation invited their early childhood development grantees to a theory of change workshop and to apply for small grants for facilitated theory of change planning and logic modeling. Five groups received the “mini-grants” and received one or both services.

“Eleanor worked with several grantee organizations, each quite different from the others in terms of their current level of expertise in this type of planning. She was thorough, patient, effective and great to work with. Thanks, Eleanor, for making this a successful project for everyone.” – Mary L. Gregory, Philanthropy Executive at Pacific Foundation Services & Executive Director, Bella Vista Foundation

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Clarifying Who We Serve & How They Benefit

When Kym R. Johnson took the helm of this multi-pronged 40-year childcare organization in 2016, she brought a passion to create a more impactful organization with programs deeply responsive to the current needs of the BANANAS community. In late 2017, she determined that developing a theory of change could get the organization on a path to meaningful organizational change. With three other BANANAS leaders, she and I designed and implemented a highly participatory process with a diverse planning team comprised of a few Board members, senior staff leaders, key division heads and others.

In several sessions, the team grappled with such important questions as ‘Who are BANANAS’ ultimate beneficiaries–parents, childcare providers or children?” and “What does our ultimate vision of change for these people look like?”.  The team weighed these meaty questions, considering the various choices and gradually coming to agreement. To achieve their newly clarified “North Star”, they drafted pathways of sequential outcomes and surfaced underlying assumptions so they could be examined.

Development & Community Services Director Tara Bartholomew said, “Eleanor worked with our team on our theory of change last year. She was amazing. She made sure that everyone’s voice was honored and heard. In the end, the staff and leadership have a product we can be proud of and stand behind.”

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Reducing Silo-ism to Increase Impact

Leaders of this rural anti-poverty organization were seeking ways to increase the group’s impact while continuing to provide residents the only human services available in the region. They believed that creating and implementing a results framework--a theory of change and logic models--for the organization’s diverse activities would both increase operational efficiency and help board and staff better understand how all their efforts work synergistically to create meaningful, community-wide social change.

“Eleanor worked well with members of our diverse team; she was patient, competent, engaging, creative and funny. Undaunted by the complexity of our rural community resource center, she held the big picture but also was willing and able to crawl into the details. She helped our entire team grasp and tie together all of Puente’s moving parts. This enabled our program managers to combat a sense of isolation from working in silos and got them on the same page [about our intended impact]…. We now use the theory of change frame to make decisions about new programs.”—Kerry Lobel, Executive Director, Puente de la Costa Sur

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Helping Board Members Talk Mission

Leaders of this small anti-poverty nonprofit wanted to educate the entire board about why the organization was needed and how its unique model worked. They hoped that a theory of change process would enable board members to gain greater clarity and be able to more consistently and confidently share the organization’s mission and impact.

“The greatest advantage of this process was the education and motivation of our board. Before, some board members didn’t feel fully comfortable explaining how our approach led to outcomes. Eleanor’s process helped everyone think about our mission from their own perspective. Now each member owns the message and can talk about it in their own words. They’re more willing to go out and speak to the community.” –Janis Baron, Founder/Board Chair, Sunday Friends

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