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Program Planning For Dummies: 7 Simple Steps To Your Next Nonprofit Program

Looking to design a social good program? These 7 simple steps should get you well on your way to creating a solid program that will deliver the changes you want to see happen in communities you serve.

Step 1: Pin the Issue, Target Population and Desired Outcome:

In typical program planning, we start off with Identifying a health issue and target population. We answer the question: 1. What problem irritates you?  2. who does it affect the most 3. What would you like to see differently? For example:

What problem irritates you? E.g. High prevalence of lung cancer in Georgia County

Who does it affect the most? E.g.  45 – 60-year-old Men

What would you like to see differently: e.g. I would like to see a decrease in the prevalence of lung cancer.

Step 2: Conduct Needs and Assets Assessment

After we have identified an Issue, target population and desired outcome, we then carry out a needs and assets assessment. We carry out a needs assessment with members of our target population. Our needs assessment explore behavior, lifestyle, epidemiological, social, and environmental factors that affect the health issue identified earlier. They also identify the assets in our community that we can tap into to address the social problem in focus.  During the needs assessment process, we work with stakeholders (including the target population) to:

  1. Identify and prioritize behavior, lifestyle and environmental factors that stand as barriers (e.g early smoking initiation among teenagers) to achieving the desired results- a decrease in lung cancer among 45-60-year-old men in Georgia county.
  2. Identify and prioritize factors that predispose people to the behavior or lifestyle; enable the behavior of lifestyle; and reinforce the behavior or lifestyle. (That is early smoking initiation among teenagers) Regarding this, recall that we defined:
  • Predisposing factors as any characteristics of a person or population that motivate behavior prior to or during the occurrence of that behavior.[2] They include an individual’s knowledge, beliefs, values, and attitudes. E.g beliefs that smoking reliefs stress; beliefs that smoking is cool and gets you accepted among peers; beliefs that smoking is safe)
  • Reinforcing factors as rewards or punishments following or anticipated as a consequence of a behavior. They serve to strengthen the motivation for behavior. Some of the reinforcing factors include social support, peer support, etc. (e.g Presence of a smoking parent in the household; peer pressure to smoke – a member of the club in which most club members smoke)
  • Enabling factors as those characteristics of the environment that facilitate action and any skill or resource required to attain specific behavior. They include programs, services, availability and accessibility of resources, or new skills required to enable behavior change.(E.g tobacco industry’s ads to communicate tobacco as safe and cool, price breaks for tobacco industries, movies showing smokers and smoking as part of normal living)
  • Note that predisposing, enabling and reinforcing factors relate to the behavior or lifestyle and not the desired result.

Step 3: Prioritize Needs

Good! After we have identified these factors, we work with our target population and stakeholders to prioritize them. i.e to determine which of the predisposing, enabling and reinforcing factors identified in step 2  have the greatest impact on early smoking initiation among teenagers. Let assume we decide to go with two factors:

  1. Beliefs that smoking is safe
  2. Tobacco industry ads that promote smoking as safe and cool

Step 4: Determine the Theoretical Framework/Conceptual Framework

Since we have our priority factors identified, we then want to go ahead to figure out how we will address these factors (that is our intervention strategy). But to do this effectively, we will look at the literature to identify a theory that speaks to needs we prioritized in step 3.

a. Choosing a framework: We consider the constructs/proposition/ of the various public health theories to find which of them relates to prioritized needs – in this case the relationship between knowledge, beliefs, attitude and actions /behavior (since our priority needs in step 3 relates the issue of beliefs that smoking is safe and tobacco ads (information) that smoking is safe and cool).

For our example, lets go with the Health Belief Model. Why did we choose the HBM?

b. Justifying chosen framework: Because The Health Belief Model is a framework for motivating people to take positive health actions; that uses the desire to avoid a negative health consequence as the prime motivation. Its constructs of perceived susceptibility, severity, benefit, barriers, cues to action and self-efficacy speaks to the relationship between knowledge, beliefs, attitude and actions /behavior

The model proposes that a person will take a health-related action (i.e., delay or refuse to initiate smoking) if that person:

  • Feel he/she is at risk of a negative health condition (i.e lung cancer)
  • Feels that if they were diagnosed with a health condition (lung cancer) it would be severe (perhaps they would die)
  • That avoiding tobacco-use has benefits (lower risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer)
  • feels that a negative health condition (i.e., lung cancer) can be avoided,
  • has a positive expectation that by taking a recommended action, he/she will avoid a negative health condition (i.e., refusing to initiate smoking will prevent lung cancer), and
  • Feels that they know how to abstain from tobacco use
  • believes that he/she can successfully take a recommended health action (i.e., can live without tobacco or cigarettes comfortably and with confidence).

c. Linking theoretical framework with health issue: Relating this model to our health issue, we can say that teenagers are more likely to delay or refuse to initiate smoking if they feel that they are at risk of developing lung cancer, They can die if they were diagnosed with lung cancer, they are likely to live longer if they were not diagnosed with lung cancer, lung cancer can be avoided by not smoking, they can comfortably and confidently avoid initiating tobacco use.

Step 5: Determine Program Objectives:

Now we have our conceptual framework set, we now want to go ahead to use it’s constructs to determine our program objectives:

  1. Since teenagers will not use tobacco if they feel they are at risk of lung cancer, we need to let them know they are at risk of lung cancer if they use tobacco. This means we have to share knowledge and create awareness.
  2. Since teenagers will not initiate tobacco use if they believe that doing this will prevent them from developing lung cancer, we need to convince them that staying away from tobacco will significantly lower their risk of developing lung cancer
  3. Since teenagers will not use tobacco use if they believe they can comfortably and confidently avoid smoking or tobacco use, we need to do something to make them feel comfortable about not using tobacco and confident about not using tobacco.

From the above analogy, two program objectives can emerge:

  1. To Increase knowledge about lung cancer risk and prevention among 20% of teenagers in Georgia county
  2. To achieve a 10% increase in the proportion of teenagers in Georgia county who are confident and comfortable with not-smoking

Step 6: Determine Program Strategy:

Now we have our objectives set in step 5, we need to figure out what approach to take in order to achieve these objectives and how (the “how” is our intervention strategy): We can propose some strategies as:

  1. Creating awareness about lung cancer – risk factors and preventive measures using social marketing campaigns
  2. Building self-esteem & confidence among teens through peer education


Step 7: Develop Program Activities

Activities are actions you will take – within the strategy you have chosen – to achieve your objectives. Each objective should have at least one activity. They are somewhat more specific than objectives. To identify great activities, we must return to the literature to look for good practices related to our strategy and target population. For our example, we want to find out how teens get new information and what helps them build their self-esteem. Some examples from the literature regarding our strategy include:

  1. Creating awareness about risk factors and prevention of Lung Cancer using social marketing campaigns
  • Develop two print, radio, and TV commercials
  • Plan and implement 3 health fairs in Georgia
  1. Building teen self-esteem and confidence about tobacco-use abstinence
  • Train 10,000 peer educators
  • Carryout 50 peer – to peer training sessions across Georgia county
  • Support development of 10 non-tobacco use clubs
  • Provide grant support for the development of 5 high school “teen-for- a tobacco-free party” advocacy groups.


Need Additional Help?

If you need a coach to explain the concept or process further, contact us here. One of our coaches will be happy to assist you.

To Working Strategies & Authentic Results.

It’s Chinnie & Team

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