Theories of Change

About this collection: This Content Collection features guides and examples for family foundations and others seeking to create a Theory of Change for their philanthropic strategies.

A theory of change describes a process of planned social change, from the assumptions that guide its design to the long-term goals it seeks to achieve. Grant makers who have created theories of change explain that having a theory helps them and their grantees draw logical connections between activities and outcomes. It helps them to articulate exactly what propositions and assumptions their work is testing — and therefore what they should be assessing in their evaluation plan.

This Content Collection features guides and examples for family foundations and others seeking to create a Theory of Change for their philanthropic strategies.

Please see the NCFP Content Collections on Systems Change and Strategic Philanthropy  for related information and resources.

Start Here

Mapping Change: Using a Theory of Change to Guide Planning and Evaluation

Report
This brief guide explains why grantmakers use theories of change to guide their questioning, unearth assumptions that underlie their work, establish common language, and develop strong action plans. Contributors to the guide also describe how a theory of change sets the stage for evaluation by clarifying goals, strategies, and milestones.

Making Change Happen: Creating an Outcome-Based Strategy

Report
Planning for your philanthropic journey starts with identifying the destination. In other words, donors create their giving strategy by clearly stating the outcomes they want to see, then identify the specific actions that they believe will produce those outcomes.

How shortcuts cut us short: Cognitive traps in philanthropic decision making

Report
Cognitive traps can hinder any decision a foundation makes about its strategies. This includes how to construct a theory of change to address it, and which grantees are best suited to do the work. It also includes decisions made during implementation, such as whether strategy adjustments are needed or whether …

Case Study of the Tauck Family Foundation

Sample Theories of Change