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Envision the Solution You’re Building

Start your nonprofit with a clear vision of the problem you’re trying to solve and an idea for a meaningful solution. Check in with other members of your community to make sure you’re listening to diverse perspectives.

Activity: Asset Mapping & Stating the Problem

On a blank sheet of paper, write the name of the community you want to serve in the center of the page. Write a few bullet points about what’s great about this community.

Write the word “Things” in the top left corner, the word “People” in the top right corner, the word “Institutions” in the bottom left corner, and the words “Skills/Knowledge” in the bottom right corner. Next to each, write a few bullet points about the resources your community has access to in each of these categories.

What are the BARRIERS between these resources and your community? Draw/write them where they interrupt the flow of resources.

If you asked several people in your community to do the same exercise, would their maps look the same as yours? This is a fast way to surface ideas and identify common ground.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself about your community, its resources and barriers.

  • How are we defining the community?
  • Are the resources stable or fluctuating?
  • Are the barriers unique to this community or do they affect others?

A problem statement describes the forces negatively affecting your community and what impact that has on members of the community. A theory of change describes the work you’re planning to do in terms of how it addresses the problem and positively impacts the community. It takes into account the research you’ve done and the barriers or gaps in services you’ve identified.

Activity: Theory of Change

  • Describe the problem you are trying to address. What do you know about it?
  • What do you think will work? How are you going to address the problem?
  • What change will come about as a result of your work?

Right now you have a theory. Theories can be right or wrong, and we find out by testing. Before you test your theory on people, here are some tough questions to ask yourself.

  • Am I taking into consideration what people in the community want and need, or did I assume that other people want what I want, and that I know what everyone needs?
  • Did I look for existing solutions to the problem and evaluate how well they’re working?
  • Is there any chance I could make the problem worse by doing this?
  • Do I need partners to do this? (If you’re taking responsibility for people’s safety and wellbeing, especially children, then YES, you should work with existing institutions on your test.)
  • Will I leave people in the lurch if I start and stop?
  • How will I know if my solution is working?

Once you’ve had some early success, it’s time to start thinking about how to continue or expand the work.

Test your knowledge

What is a Theory of Change?