Articulating Theory of Change for Impact

January 25, 2018


For organizations hoping to make impact in the world, a clear articulation of how they hope to make that impact is crucial to success. Having a guiding theory behind the work your organization is doing will keep it focused and make it compelling to outsiders.

At Purpose, we use a Theory of Change framework to help organizations and campaigns map out the change they want to create in the world. At the start of the New Year, Purpose hosted a Theory of Change workshop with the abortion rights nonprofit, A is For. Over the course of an afternoon, we used the following four to five part framework to sharpen the organization’s theory of change. A great theory of changes has four to five elements:

  1. Participants: The people an organization or campaign are mobilizing into action.
  2. Actions: The actions we will ask our participants to take and the tactics we will use to inspire that action.
  3. Target: The entity our campaign or organization’s actions will focus upon. This may be members of Congress, business executives, a segment of society. Not all Theories of Change have a target: for some campaigns or organizations, for instance those looking to shift perception, the participants are also the target.
  4. Goal: The concrete, usually short-term objective of our campaign or organization that helps us achieve our overall vision.
  5. Impact: The long-term impact we want to see in the world


Once these pieces are defined, we can articulate the theory of change as a statement in the following format.  


A theory of change is the basis for all campaign and organizational strategy–from strategic planning to determining where to put resources. It can also be refined and simplified to use when talking about the impact a campaign or organization makes on the world.


For A is For, the nonprofit was founded by and for members of the arts community to support and fund increase access to abortion and end the stigma around abortion care. Using the theory of change exercise, Board members refined the organization’s Theory of Change to solidify the organization’s role at the intersection of the arts community and abortion rights.

Learn more about A is For and support the organization at their upcoming show Broadway Acts for Women.

Kevin Mernin Associate Strategy Director
Choose Both: A Digital Guide
for Equity & Evidence