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What's a Logic Model and Why Should I Care?

People tend to assume that the most important document in a grant application is the budget. That's not true. So what is the single most important document? I would argue that it's the logic model. Yet many people don't understand what this is, and some grants don't even ask you to include it in your package - which means many clients don't do one. It's 100% worthwhile to create a logic model, even if the funder will never see it. I will tell you why, but first, let's talk about what the logic model is.


A logic model is a 1 page visual representation of your proposed program's goal, activities, and anticipated outcomes. Essentially, the model explains what you're trying to do, how you plan to do it, and what you think will come of it. It sums up your entire project in one easy-to-digest chart or graphic. And if I'm the person scoring the grant applications, it's absolutely the first thing I look at. If I don't like it, I'm unlikely to read the rest of the package.


Logic models follow all kinds of templates and formats - most grants that require one will not dictate how it looks. It's more important that the ideas are easy to follow and clear. You'll see several examples in this post, starting with the one below. Oh, and if you need more ideas, visit https://inside.ewu.edu/ogrd/pre-award/proposal-development/writing-resources/logic-models/.



Image: A sample logic model


The biggest mistake, aside from not completing a logic model, that I see in working with clients is people rushing to put them together after they're already completed the narratives and budget. Since so many people don't really understand the model, it can end up getting put off and being thrown in as an afterthought.


Here's my advice to you: do it first. Like, absolutely first, before you've done anything else - before you've even solidified the project details and possibly even before you've brought partners on board. Have the folks who will be leading the project sit down together and list out your goals. What problem/s are you hoping to solve? The answers to that question can be crafted into goals. Goals can be things like "reduce the number of children diagnosed with diabetes in New York City" or "increase the number of women in tribal villages who attend all 4 pre-natal care visits." Goals should be specific - try to avoid things like "improve the health of New Yorkers" or "give Indian women better healthcare access."


After you've agreed on your goals, discuss what activities will help you meet these goals. Your activities might be things like developing mobile care units to provide healthcare for those who cannot leave their homes, or offering diabetes education, running free screening events, or creating a Telehealth app that allows patients to get answers to their basic health concerns. Whatever your activities are, they should all work towards your goals.


The third thing to brainstorm is your outcomes. What results do you hope to see? Outcomes should be specific and measurable. Again, you don't want to say "fewer kids will have diabetes" or "more women will have health pregnancies." You need to think about how you will prove whether you met those goals or not. Think in terms of percentages and numbers. You can say things like "there will be a 10% decrease in the number of New York City children diagnosed with diabetes within the program's first 2 years, with a 5% decrease each year until the end of the grant period." You could say "80% of students will test at a 3rd grade reading level by the end of the grant period." Your outcomes might be measured through surveys or participation data, through focus groups or interviews or even customer satisfaction data. Just make sure they can realistically be measured. One of the hardest things for clients is setting these specific percentage increases. "Should we be really optimistic, or make them easy to meet so it looks like we're doing what we meant to accomplish?" I always tell folks to have an 'optimistic', best case scenario goal, as well as a "we'd be happy with...." goal. You can state both in your grant, and funders tend to appreciate seeing both.



Image: A template for organizing your thoughts for the logic model


Once you have brainstormed and listed out your goals, activities, and outcomes, you'll want to then find a logic model template that you like. There are loads fo them out there, but don't use anything that's more than 1 page. (If you can't fit everything on one page, you're very likely trying to do too much for one grant project.)


You'll notice that templates use language you may not understand. Specifically, you'll see the words "inputs, outputs, assumptions, internal factors, external factors," and possibly "population/participants." Here's what they're talking about:


Inputs: These are what your organization will be contributing to help meet the goals. These can be things like "providing trainers and supplies for workshops on mental health issues," "purchase technology for updated classrooms for Pre-K children," "providing training on how to talk to teens in crisis," etc. Multiple entities may have inputs - if you're working with partners, your partners may have different inputs than your organization. All should be listed.


Outputs: These are your activities, or what actually gets done. These are things like workshops, trainings, programs, etc.


Assumptions: These explain why you think this plan is going to work. For example, my client who designs mentoring programs for incarcerated youth might say as an assumption, "incarcerated young people who have a mentor who was also formerly incarcerated have higher rates of job placement and educational attainment after release." You may have an accompanying literature review in your narrative to back up these assumptions.


External Factors: As you might guess, these are the things you can't control. They can be things like what's learned in public school curriculum, political situations, economic changes, even natural disasters. What you list will depend on your program and what realistically may impact it that's beyond the scope of your control.


Populations/Participants: Who will take part in the different activities? This should be nice and specific and includes demographic info about the population you hope to serve. That might be LGBTQ+ youths in the Bangor public school system, or it might be patients diagnosed with dementia who have been in a residential facility for less than a year. Just make sure that it's not "anyone who is interested." If an event or activity IS open to anyone, you can say something like "family, friends, and community members supporting those living with Sickle Cell Syndrome, and well as the patients themselves," or "community members wishing to learn more about Sickle Cell Syndrome."



Image: Sample logic model with common sections like inputs, outputs, and outcomes


Having written out your goals, activities, and outcomes will make the process of listing out inputs, etc. much easier, and in going through this process, you can make sure everyone on the team has the same understanding of what you're trying to do and what everyone's role is.


Logic models are flexible and can/should be customized to fit your project. All of them though, regardless of what they look like, force you to put really important ideas on paper, and that requires you to think through them thoroughly. That, in the end, is the real beauty of the logic model. Sure, it's helpful to the funder who wants a snapshot of your project, but creating one is also invaluable for your team. And that's why, even if a grant doesn't ask you to attach it, you should always produce a logic model.



P.S. A grant writer can guide your team through the process of creating a logic model. Logic models are also great jumping-off points for your writer to craft the narratives.