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New age of nonprofit theory of change to automate impact insight

A good nonprofit theory of change model is the first step towards creating the impact an organization aims to bring.
Written by
Unmesh Sheth
Published on
May 3, 2019

A nonprofit theory of change outlines how planned actions are expected to lead to desired social or environmental outcomes.

Nonprofit Theory of Change: A Comprehensive Guide


The nonprofit sector navigates a complex landscape of changes, challenges, and opportunities. In the United States alone, there are over 1.5 million nonprofits, with a majority being small to medium-sized organizations. These nonprofits face significant hurdles such as managing workload, fundraising, and demonstrating impact. One of the most effective ways to articulate and demonstrate impact is through a robust Theory of Change (ToC). This comprehensive guide delves into the concept of ToC, illustrating its importance and application, using Year Up, a leading U.S.-based organization focused on upskilling, as a real-life example.

What is a Theory of Change?

A Theory of Change is a strategic framework that outlines how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. It maps out the steps required to achieve long-term goals, identifying the preconditions, pathways, and interventions necessary for success. This framework not only guides program design and implementation but also serves as a powerful tool for communicating impact to stakeholders.

Why is Theory of Change Important for Nonprofits?

  1. Clarifies Objectives: A ToC helps organizations define their goals clearly and the steps needed to achieve them.
  2. Enhances Accountability: By mapping out the causal pathways, nonprofits can track progress and demonstrate accountability to donors and stakeholders.
  3. Improves Program Design: It allows for a systematic examination of the underlying assumptions and the identification of potential risks and bottlenecks.
  4. Facilitates Stakeholder Engagement: A well-articulated ToC communicates the organization's vision and impact, fostering better engagement with stakeholders.

Sopact's Approach to Theory of Change

Sopact revolutionizes impact measurement for nonprofits by providing tools and frameworks that streamline the process of creating and implementing a Theory of Change. Sopact's platform enables organizations to collect and analyze data efficiently, transforming the traditionally cumbersome data collection and analysis process into one that takes minutes instead of months. This approach aligns with the current trends in the nonprofit sector, which increasingly emphasize the use of digital channels and data to enhance storytelling and donor engagement.

Case Study: Year Up

Organization Overview

Year Up is a U.S.-based nonprofit that aims to close the opportunity divide by providing young adults from underserved communities with the skills, experience, and support necessary to achieve professional success. The organization offers a comprehensive program that includes six months of skills training followed by a six-month corporate internship.

Problem Statement

The opportunity divide is a challenge faced by young adults from underserved communities because of systemic barriers to education and employment. This results in limited career prospects and economic instability, creating a need for comprehensive upskilling and workforce development programs.

Theory of Change

Activity Focus: Skills Training


  1. Number of Participants Trained: Track the number of young adults enrolled and completed the training program.
  2. Skills Acquired: Measure the specific skills gained by participants through assessments and certifications.
  3. Participant Feedback: Collect qualitative data on participant satisfaction and perceived value of the training.


  1. Immediate Employment: A significant percentage of graduates secure professional positions with competitive salaries shortly after completing the program.
  2. Career Advancement: Participants experience increased opportunities for career growth and professional development.
  3. Economic Stability: Graduates achieve greater economic stability and mobility, contributing to closing the opportunity divide.

Year Up’s Theory of Change in Action

Year Up’s (taken as an example from external view perspective) Skills Training program equips young adults with essential technical and professional skills, preparing them for internships and long-term employment. The program's success is measured through immediate employment rates, career advancement opportunities, and participants' economic stability. This structured approach not only addresses the immediate need for employment but also fosters long-term career growth and financial independence.

Year Up Theory of Change Wizard - Skills Training Focus

Year Up Theory of Change Wizard - Skills Training Focus

Note: This tool is for learning and illustration purposes only. For designing a complete Theory of Change, start with SoPact Sense which has 200+ examples and personalized guidance.

Step 1: Program Documentation

Review the program documentation on the official website:

Visit Year Up Website

Step 2: Theory of Change Statement

Theory of Change Components:

Problem: The opportunity divide

Target Audience: Young adults from underserved communities

Cause: Systemic barriers to education and employment

Impact: Limited career prospects and economic instability

Solution: Comprehensive upskilling and workforce development programs

Step 3: Activity - Skills Training

Select a specific aspect of skills training to see associated metrics:

Selected Aspect:

Activity Metrics:

Step 4: Outputs

Select an output to see associated metrics:

Selected Output:

Output Metrics:

Step 5: Outcomes

Select an outcome to see associated metrics:

Selected Outcome:

Outcome Metrics:

Step 6: Align Data Strategy for Theory of Change (Identify data sources)

Activity Output Outcome
What is an activity?
Provide skills training for young adults

Defining relevant metrics
# of training hours provided

Data Sources
Training attendance logs, Course completion records
What is an output?
Increased skills and knowledge among participants

Defining relevant metrics
% of participants passing skills assessments

Data Sources
Skills assessment results, Certification exams
What is the outcome?
Improved employment prospects for participants

Defining relevant metrics
% of graduates employed in relevant fields

Data Sources
Graduate employment surveys, Employer feedback

Step 7: Review data collection goals

Activity Metric: Provide 1000 hours of skills training per cohort by the end of the program.

Output Metric: Increase the percentage of participants passing skills assessments from 70% to 90% within the program duration.

Outcome Metric: Achieve an 85% employment rate in relevant fields for program graduates within 6 months of completion.

Step 8: Implement data collection in Sopact Sense

To effectively measure and communicate impact:

  • Implement a robust learning management system to track training hours and course completions
  • Conduct regular skills assessments and maintain certification records
  • Establish a graduate tracking system for employment outcomes
  • Develop a dashboard to visualize progress towards metrics in real-time
  • Share quarterly impact reports with stakeholders and supporters

Communicate Final Results

To effectively design story and reporting:


Skills Training

#of training hours provided


Skills Training


Increased Skill and Knwoeldge

%of participatn passing skills assessment

Before 36% After 82%


Improved Employment

% of graduates employed in relevent skills

Before 12% After %78%

Real-Life Example: Enhanced Pitch with Sopact Insights

Previously, the CEO of Year Up might have pitched their impact using traditional metrics such as "number of participants trained." With Sopact’s tools, they now have deeper insights:

  • 70% of respondents lacked confidence in their skills before the program, with this percentage dropping to 23% post-workshop.
  • 53% of respondents experienced a boost in confidence post-workshop, and 16% reported the same at follow-up.
  • The average score on the skills assessment increased from 52.77 before the program to 71.87 after the program.
  • 36% of respondents reported improved job interviews after the workshop, but the percentage dropped to 10% at follow-up.
  • 70% of respondents had not built a web application before the workshop; this number reduced to 26% post-workshop.

Example Dashboard for Girls Code (Similar to Year Up and Fictitious)

To illustrate, let me share an example of how we could turn a Theory of Change into a data collection strategy and communicate impact through a dashboard and proper storytelling.

Theory of Change for Girls Code

Problem Statement:The gender gap in STEM fields is a challenge faced by young women because of limited access to quality STEM education and support. This results in underrepresentation in the tech workforce and limited career opportunities, creating a need for targeted STEM education programs for girls.

Activity Focus: STEM Training and Workshops


  1. Number of Workshops Held: Track the number of coding workshops conducted.
  2. Number of Participants: Measure the number of girls who attend and complete the workshops.
  3. Skills Acquired: Assess the specific coding skills gained by participants through tests and project evaluations.
  4. Participant Feedback: Collect qualitative data on participant satisfaction and perceived value of the workshops.


  1. Increased Confidence: Measure the change in participants' confidence in their coding abilities before and after the workshops.
  2. Skill Proficiency: Track improvements in coding test scores and project completion rates.
  3. Career Aspirations: Monitor changes in participants' interest in pursuing STEM careers.
  4. Job Readiness: Assess participants' readiness for job interviews and internships in tech fields.

Data Collection Strategy

  1. Pre- and Post-Workshop Surveys: Conduct surveys to measure changes in confidence, skill levels, and career aspirations.
  2. Skills Assessments: Use coding tests and project evaluations to track skill acquisition and proficiency.
  3. Feedback Forms: Collect participant feedback on the quality and impact of the workshops.
  4. Longitudinal Tracking: Follow up with participants periodically to monitor long-term outcomes such as job readiness and career progression.

Dashboard Components

  1. Participant Demographics: Visualize the number of participants by age, location, and background.
  2. Workshop Metrics: Display the number of workshops held, attendance rates, and completion rates.
  3. Skills Development: Show changes in coding test scores and project completion rates before and after the workshops.
  4. Confidence Levels: Track the increase in participants' confidence in their coding abilities.
  5. Career Aspirations: Monitor shifts in participants' interest in STEM careers.
  6. Job Readiness: Highlight participants' preparedness for job interviews and internships.

Communicating Impact through Storytelling

  1. Success Stories: Share individual stories of participants who have successfully transitioned into STEM careers, highlighting their journey and achievements.
  2. Visual Data: Use charts and graphs to present key metrics and outcomes, making the data easily understandable and compelling.
  3. Stakeholder Testimonials: Include testimonials from participants, parents, and industry partners to provide diverse perspectives on the program's impact.
  4. Interactive Elements: Incorporate interactive elements in the dashboard, such as clickable charts and drill-downs, to engage stakeholders and provide deeper insights.

Example Impact Narrative:

"Girls Code has significantly boosted the confidence and skills of young women in STEM. Before our program, 70% of participants lacked confidence in their coding abilities. After our workshops, this number dropped to 23%, and the average coding test scores increased from 53 to 72. Additionally, 70% of our participants had never built a web application before attending our workshop, but only 26% remained in that category post-program. These insights demonstrate the profound impact of our work, ensuring our girls are not just participants but future leaders in tech."

By effectively turning a Theory of Change into a structured data collection strategy and leveraging dashboards for storytelling, Girls Code can clearly demonstrate its impact, engage stakeholders, and secure ongoing support. This approach, inspired by Sopact’s methodologies, ensures that nonprofits can efficiently manage and communicate their outcomes, driving greater impact and organizational success.

Girls Code: Empowering Future Tech Leaders

Bridging the gender gap in STEM, one line of code at a time.

Participants Empowered
Increase in Coding Confidence
Secured Tech Internships

The Girls Code Journey


Intensive coding workshops


Build a supportive network


Kickstart tech careers

Voices of Change

"Girls Code transformed my life. I went from being intimidated by technology to landing a dream internship at Google. Now, I'm inspiring other girls to pursue tech careers!"

- Sarah, Girls Code Alumna


A robust Theory of Change is indispensable for nonprofits striving to make a measurable impact. It provides a clear roadmap for achieving goals, enhances program design, and facilitates effective communication with stakeholders. Year Up’s example illustrates how a well-articulated ToC can drive meaningful change, supported by evidence-based insights and continuous stakeholder engagement. By leveraging innovative impact measurement solutions like those offered by Sopact, nonprofits can significantly enhance their ability to demonstrate and amplify their impact.

Call to Action

Can you revolutionize your nonprofit’s impact measurement and secure greater donor support? Visit Sopact’s website to watch the full demo and discover a plan that suits you. Take the first step towards transforming your nonprofit’s future with Sopact. Let’s work together to make a lasting impact.

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