Announcing ProInspire’s Updated Theory of Change


February 20, 2019
By: Monisha Kapila

When I reflect on the past 10 years, it becomes clear that our greatest asset is the ProInspire community of over 3,000 people and almost 500 organizations working to advance social impact across the sector. These partnerships have given us a deeper understanding of the leadership challenges facing the social sector and helped us gain clarity on how we must evolve in order to expand our impact. I’m writing this blog to give our community more insight into what we have learned, how it has informed our updated theory of change, and what we will do to fulfill our mission moving forward.

When I started ProInspire in 2009, I was focused on structural barriers to working in the nonprofit sector. I knew from my experience as a first generation immigrant that many nonprofit practices prevented people with different backgrounds and life experiences from doing this work — including low entry-level pay, prioritizing candidates with nonprofit work experience, and focusing on personal networks for hiring.

We launched with the ProInspire Fellowship to expand talent pipelines into the social sector, and organizations valued the diversity, skills, and experiences fellows brought to their organizations. But we quickly realized that limiting the focus to entry-level pathways ignored the larger systemic challenges facing social impact organizations. Lack of investment in talent, the racial leadership gap, insufficient funding models, and other structural barriers limited fellows’ potential to generate social impact. As a result, many of our fellows chose to leave the sector in favor of alternate career paths.

In 2014 we expanded our mission to “develop leaders at all levels for organizations addressing the world’s greatest challenges” and introduced programs for individuals in management and leadership roles, like Managing for Success and the ProInspire Leadership Institute. At the same time, our work around leadership and equity deepened through the Casey Foundation’s Talent Pipelines Learning Lab, partnerships to build custom programs with nonprofits and foundations, and research and knowledge sharing through Equity in the Center

In 2018, we invested in our internal capacity around race equity through training and coaching for our staff and Board. Through these efforts, we recognized the need to be more explicit in naming equity, along with leadership, as a result of our work. Our team spent months working on a revised theory of change, and we are energized by the clarity it provides for our work going forward.

Our Updated Theory of Change

Some key elements that were important to us in updating the theory of change:

  • Naming equity as the result of our work. ProInspire’s vision speaks to equity and justice as the change we want to see in the world. Our mission focuses specifically on equity, as that is what we aim to contribute towards the vision, and we believe we have to play an active role to advance that.
  • Maintaining a focus on “leaders at all levels.” We retained this from our prior mission, as we believe “leader” does not equal positional authority and our work will continue to focus on people working at all levels in the social sector.
  • Levels of change. We believe change happens at the individual, organizational, and systems levels, and all three are reinforcing. We have learned from our past programs that focusing on only one specific level is not as effective as addressing how all three are connected.

Our Strategies and Outcomes

We identified three key strategies to advance our mission. These strategies build on work we started in 2016, but clarify the stakeholders and scope for the programs and activities that fall within each one.

  • Support individuals to accelerate equity and leadership
  • Strengthen organizations to accelerate equity and leadership
    • Includes partnerships with nonprofits, foundations, and social impact organizations to deliver programs, including workshops, retreats, and coaching.
    • New in 2019 – We are rolling out our race equity curriculum through custom programs and cohorts.
  • Influence and equip the social sector to accelerate equity and leadership
    • Includes Equity in the Center’s work to create resources and convene stakeholders around building a Race Equity Culture, and our ongoing thought leadership.
    • New in 2019 – We plan to pilot and publish a leadership competency model with a race equity lens, and celebrate our 10 year anniversary with a series of events.

In the past, we defined outcomes at the individual program level. Through this process, we were intentional about identifying the outcomes to track across our work:

  • Increased competencies in leaders to accelerate equity
  • Increased confidence in leaders to take action
  • Increased connections across leaders to build a network

Check out this post to learn more about what you can expect from us this year, and how we will be rolling out these strategies. Our new website will be live in the next month, and we look forward to welcoming you there! Please reach out with any questions or feedback. We look forward to continued partnership with you in activating leaders and accelerating equity in the years to come.

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