How to Build a Logic Model for Grants

Whether you are new to grant writing or have years of experience, logic models are a hot topic. In this post, we are going to provide some background, examples, and tips to help you learn how to build a logic model.

If you are interested in learning how logic models can help improve project planning for your nonprofit, you have come to the right place.

What is a Logic Model for Grants?

A logic model is a tool that can help you define goals, objectives, inputs, outputs, and outcomes associated with a specific project. There may be slightly different titles given to some of these categories depending on the type of project that you are working with.

When writing a grant, building a logic model helps demonstrate how the activities of your project will achieve your intended results. As a grant writer, the logic model will help you make sure you fully understand how each of the project parts are connected.

Logic models also help grantmakers see if your intended results are plausible based on your project design. A good logic model will help demonstrate to the funder how each activity that you are proposing will lead to desired changes.

Logic models are typically displayed as flowcharts that illustrate links between the various parts of a project. By displaying the inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and impacts in a chart, end results and steps to achieve them can be viewed visually.

When Should You Use Logic Models?

Many funders now request logic models as part of the grant application, so this would be the key time to use them as a grant writer. Even if the funder does not require a logic model, it can still be a useful tool for increasing your understanding of your project.

Another reason to build a nonprofit logic model as a grant writer is to help determine the appropriate outcomes for a certain project or the right project to achieve certain outcomes.

Some sources will even recommend writing a logic model from right to left, meaning you start with your intended results or impacts and work backwards. By forming the model in this way, you can determine whether or not your project activities will actually help you achieve the intended results.

Logic models are great ways to plan your project and understand how you will get from point A to point B. Once you have developed a logic model, you can then use it to track your achievements during the project to make sure that you stay on track.

A logic model can also help demonstrate the impacts of your work to stakeholders involved in the project. These stakeholders could be funders, community members, sponsors, volunteers, your board members, or others.

Because the logic model provides a visual way to describe activities and outcomes, it is often easier to understand than a verbal or written explanation.

How to Build Your Own Logic Model: 5 Steps

If you understand your project well, building your logic model should not be very difficult. If you do not fully understand your project yet, building a logic model will help things become more clear. Here are some key steps that will help you build an effective nonprofit logic model.

1. List out elements of a logic model

An important first step in building a logic model is to list out all of the necessary elements/sections. As we mentioned previously, there are typically five sections of a logic model which are: resources/inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and impacts.

  • Resources/inputs include all materials, personnel, etc. that are dedicated to the project. For example, staff, supplies, volunteers, space, funding, community contributions, etc.
  • Activities are the specific work of your project such as weekly programs, meals made for the community, etc.
  • Outputs are what will come directly from the activities such as the number of people served by your programs.
  • Outcomes typically refer to the shorter term change that you hope to see through the activities of your project. For example, if you are providing job search services you would hope to see participants getting jobs.
  • Impacts are used to indicate the longer term change that you are hoping for. Keeping the same example of job placement services, an impact would be that a certain percentage of the participants stay in the job you helped them find for a certain amount of time.

Listing these out elements will help you understand what information you need to create your logic model.

2. Review examples

One good way to learn logic model 101 is to review logic model examples. Some grantmakers will provide example logic models for your review, or you can find some through a simple internet search.

Reviewing examples can help you determine the best layout to fit your needs and also provide additional insight on what types of information to include in each category/section of your logic model.

Below is an example logic model from Eastern Washington University.

3. Decide on your layout

Although it may sound like a simple step, it is important to determine how you want to lay out your logic model. You may find that you start with one idea and shift as you are filling in information, but having a plan up front will help you begin.

No matter which layout you choose, keep in mind that the completed logic model should function like a flowchart where inputs are linked to activities, activities linked to outputs, etc.

Here is an example layout for reference. Note that you would also add a column for impacts and that one item (such as an input) may apply to multiple activities.

4. Walk/talk through your project

When building your logic model, it is important to walk or talk through all aspects of your project. Walking through the project will help ensure that all information is captured in your logic model.

In order to make sure that your logic model flows well and properly demonstrates how your project will achieve results, the model needs to include a fair amount of detail. Your walk/talk through may look like creating a timeline or perhaps just creating a list of aspects of your project.

5. Request outside review

Similar to other parts of grant writing, it is helpful to have someone outside of your immediate work group or outside of your nonprofit review the logic model.

Keep in mind that while the logic model is a great tool to help you and your nonprofit, creating logic models for a grant is meant to demonstrate how you will achieve your results to the grantmaker.

As with any other aspect of a grant proposal, you want to write as if the reviewers have no knowledge of your nonprofit or your work. Outside review will help you determine if your logic model makes sense to someone with less knowledge of your nonprofit and your project.

What Makes a Logic Model Effective vs. Ineffective?

While creating a logic model may seem like it is simply an exercise to meet grantmaker requirements, it is important to make sure the model is effective. One key step in logic model 101 is to make sure your logic model aligns with your project narrative.

You should build a logic model with the goal of demonstrating how the aspects of your project will help you achieve your intended results. These aspects (such as inputs and activities) and the intended results of the project should also be clearly stated in your project narrative.

To learn more about project narratives and to see how they align with and relate to your logic model, check out our previous blog post on grant proposal narratives.

One way that a logic model can prove ineffective is by failing to tie in long term impacts. If you don’t demonstrate to the grantmaker the true change that you plan to achieve, then your logic model is not serving its intended purpose.

A logic model would also be ineffective if it does not list out the proper inputs or activities associated with the project. For example, you might forget to include facilities as a resource or a specific event that is part of the project.

You also need to make sure that your logic model matches grantmaker expectations. Grantmakers may provide a specific template for the logic model, or may simply provide some basic guidance on what they want to see included.

No matter which route the funder prefers, be sure to align your logic model with their expectations.

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Tips for Experienced Grant Writers in Improving Logic Models

While we have provided an overview of what logic models are and how to create an effective logic model, we also want to provide some tips for those of you with more experience.

1. Keep it simple

Although there are many parts to a logic model, the model is meant to provide a clear snapshot of all the elements and the connections between them. What we mean here is that you can use things like bullet points or incomplete sentences to fill in boxes within your logic model.

As an experienced grant writer, it can be tempting to try and overcomplicate your logic model. You likely understand your proposed project very well and have good writing skills.

However, something that is difficult to follow or too wordy may turn reviewers off and have a negative impact on your chances of being awarded the grant. Your project narrative, intended results, and even evaluation sections of the proposal will allow you the space to expand on these aspects in more detail.

2. Match items across sections

To help make your logic model more effective and easy to understand, make sure the items within each section are connected or aligned. For example, each input should link directly to one or more activities that it will support. Moving through the sections, each activity should then link to a certain output.

You can have one item link to more than one item in an adjacent category, but make sure that things flow well and the model is not messy. It should be clear to anyone reading the model how things connect.

Here is an example of a logic model from the University of Kansas for an alcohol and other drug education program.

3. Involve stakeholders

One way that you can improve your logic model is to involve additional stakeholders. Stakeholders may include board members, community members, or even those who you hope to serve through your project.

Conversations with these groups may bring out concepts or questions that you had not thought of and these can in turn help improve your logic model. Of course, involving outside groups such as these takes time and coordination, so make sure that you plan accordingly and keep an organized process.

Additional Pros and Cons Related to Logic Models

While logic models can be a great way to truly understand your project and the results that it may have, there are pros and cons to this method.

Pros

1. Track project activities

Your logic model can be used as a tool to track achievements during the project. You can utilize the logic model to create timelines and checkpoints throughout your project to track your progress towards achieving your results.

2. Help demonstrate impacts

It can be difficult to demonstrate some impacts of certain projects, particularly those that are more long term. By creating a logic model which serves as your theory of change, you can demonstrate to various stakeholders how you will achieve your intended results.

The visual nature of a logic model makes it easier for people who may be less familiar with your work to see the process.

3. Create buy-in

Another benefit of logic models is that they can help create buy-in from various groups. You may need buy-in from board members, volunteers, community members, or others to help make your project work.

The logic model can be used to show that you have thought through and laid out all aspects of the project which will help others see that you are prepared. Groups that have a role in your project will also be able to easily see where they fit in.

Cons

1. Can be time consuming

Creating an effective logic model will take time. As with all aspects of grant writing, you need to make sure that you allocate the proper amount of time and resources to this part of the process.

2. Require in-depth knowledge

To create a logic model for your project, you need to understand all aspects of the project. While you should already know this information if you are planning to start a project, sometimes you have an idea and may not see the big picture yet. This would be a time when working with a group could help.

3. Could change your project

It is possible that as you create your logic model you will find that changes need to be made to your project. While we are listing this as a con, some may consider it a pro. In the long run, it will help you make sure that your project is well designed, but it may throw a temporary wrench into your efforts to begin your project.

Additional Logic Model Examples & Resources

We wanted to make sure to include some additional information to help you whether you are new to logic models or looking for ways to improve on your current skills.

One great resource is this past grant workshop about using a decision matrix provided by Stacy Fitzsimmons in partnership with Instrumentl. The workshop will help you understand what a decision matrix is and how this tool can help improve the grants process within your nonprofit.

We have also included a logic model created by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island provided through Cause and Effect which shows a slightly different way to label some of the categories. Note that this example is for their organization overall, not one specific project.

We also wanted to include a sample logic model from a United Way affiliate as they are one of the major funders that require logic models with their grant applications.

You can view this sample logic model and an additional explanation here.

Wrapping Up: How to Build Effective Logic Models for Grants

Logic models are a wonderful tool to help understand all aspects of a project. They have also become increasingly important to grantmakers as they want to see the impacts of the work that they fund.

If you are learning how to build effective logic models for grants or are simply looking to improve your logic model skills, we have provided many insights in this article that you will find helpful. Following these tips will help you use your logic model to create an effective project that will create a lasting impact in your community.

If you'd like to learn more about nonprofit evaluation methods, read our post on that here. You may also enjoy our workshop with Stacy Fitzsimmons on how to create a decision matrix here.

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