Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

Public Administration (M.P.A.)

Degree Program

School of Public, Nonprofit and Health Administration


This paper reviews the term “theory of change” including its common usage in evaluative literature and its emerging usage in the field of philanthropy. A survey of U.S. foundations looked at their familiarity with theory of change: how they defined it, and how many theories they implemented based on a typology created by Frumkin (2002).

There was confusion about theory of change among top U.S. foundations. Only 54% indicated they were familiar with theory of change. Foundations familiar with the term had no clear consensus on the definition.

Eighty-six percent used at least one out of the five theories of change proposed by Frumkin. In contrast to Frumkin’s (2003) hypothesis that “grantmakers cannot coherently pursue all five theories of change at once...” (p. 11), foundations most frequently indicated that they used all five theories. Additional research on the effectiveness of using all five theories of change is needed.


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