Elevate Your Impact, Achieve Your Mission

After completing a project or fundraising campaign, have you ever asked: “Was it successful?”

If you haven't, don’t worry, you are not alone. Most nonprofits have asked that question and the main reason is because the organization did not set clear goals and objectives beforehand.

Nonprofits need to set goals and objectives throughout the entire organization. This includes every department, event, campaign, and team member. It doesn’t matter if your organization is large or small. To run a successful nonprofit, at every level, your organization must master the art of writing, implementing, and reviewing goals. 

You can write goals for three main departments of your organization. 

  • Programmatic
  • Financial
  • Operational 

Goals and objectives give your organization a roadmap to follow. They provide direction and focus, keeping everyone accountable. Setting goals also defines your organization’s priorities and helps you measure progress along the way. When you don’t achieve a goal, it is an opportunity to learn, re-evaluate, and try again.   

With clear goals and objectives in place, the overall effectiveness of your organization will soar. 

The Importance of Goal-Setting

Goals ensure your organization always moves towards your mission.

Without goals and objectives, organizations end up spinning their wheels, often doing the same things with little to no effect. It is difficult to motivate staff and make the difference you want unless you have goals to define what success looks like.

Clear goals:

  • Motivate stakeholders: When stakeholders see how goals fit into the big picture they are more likely to buy in and support your organization. It is easy and exciting for them to raise their hand and say “I can help in this area” or “I can talk to these people in my network.”
  • Guide decision-making: Leadership uses goals and objectives to make short-term and long-term decisions. They will review and evaluate the progress of the goals and then adapt or pivot if they need to make a change.
  • Facilitate resource allocation: Enables you to budget financial and human resources.   

Goals and objectives allow your organization to track progress each step of the way.

Define Your Mission and Vision

It isn’t enough to have goals and objectives, you need to align your vision and mission statement with them.

Each goal should connect with the mission and vision. Achieving goals will move your mission forward. If a goal doesn’t help your cause then you need to rework it or write a new one.  

Intentional and relevant goals will propel the overarching purpose and long-term aspirations of your nonprofit.

Conduct a Needs Assessment

Before you set your goals, conduct a thorough needs assessment. A needs assessment will determine the gaps between your current and desired outcomes.

A needs assessment explores your organization’s specific needs and the action you should take to meet those needs.

Assess the needs of your organization, audience, or community through:

  • Surveys
  • Questionnaires
  • Focus groups
  • Public meetings
  • Direct observation
  • Interviews 

To accomplish your goals, you should complete the needs assessment as part of your strategic plan.

Understand SMART Goals

It is important to write down all your goals. People who write down their goals have a better chance to achieve them. For nonprofits, use the SMART goals framework. Each goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

  • Specific: What will you achieve and how will you do it?
  • Measurable: What data will you collect to determine success?
  • Achievable: Is this goal realistic? Is it possible to achieve?
  • Relevant: Does this goal align with your mission, campaign, or project?
  • Time-bound: What is the deadline to reach your goal?

An example of a SMART goal for a nonprofit organization might be:

“To upgrade 10 new major donors from our existing donor base to increase our annual giving fund by 10% through the end of the year.”

This goal is specific, to upgrade donors. It is measurable, 10 new major donors. After looking at your donor data and wealth screening you know it is achievable. Since you want to increase funding for your mission it is relevant and by completing this goal by year-end it is time-bound.

Your organization can apply SMART goals in every area. Use them to raise awareness, increase funds, decrease expenses, recruit volunteers and donors, or improve projects.

Set Short-term and Long-term Goals

Employ the SMART goal framework for all your goals, short-term and long-term.

  • Short-term Goals: These are achieved quickly, within days, weeks, or months. They help you create momentum and provide a sense of accomplishment to boost your motivation as you work on your long-term goals.
  • Long-term Goals: These goals will take months or years to accomplish. They provide your organization with direction and help you decide what type of future your organization will have. They ensure your daily work has a purpose.

To realize both your short-term and long-term goals you need to write your SMART goals down and make them visible for you and the organization to see.

Create Actionable Objectives

An objective is not the same as a goal. A goal defines a broad, achievable outcome. Whereas, objectives support the attainment of goals.  

  • Goals: Defines a broad achievable outcome.
  • Objectives: Defines measurable actions in the short term to achieve your goal.

To create actionable objectives, state them in quantifiable terms and as an outcome, not a process. They should specify the result. Write objectives that are measurable, time-bound, and aligned with the goals.

Engage Your Stakeholders in Goal-Setting

One of the most often overlooked groups of people to help your organization set goals is your stakeholders. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to seeing the vision and writing goals to get you there.  

Stakeholders include:

  • Board members
  • Volunteers
  • Staff

Identify the key stakeholders you want to approach about goal-setting. Make sure they understand the mission and vision of the organization and have a passion to help it succeed.

Reach out to them via phone or meeting and ask them for their help. Then ask for their input to write SMART goals or have them write some themselves. Give them a deadline and follow up when needed. Together, you can work through the outcome you wish to achieve through goal-setting.  

In addition to stakeholders writing goals, you should include them in the strategic plan process.

Develop a Strategic Plan

A strategic plan, developed by the organization’s leaders, defines the vision for the future and identifies goals and objectives. It informs the organization’s decisions, growth, and goals. Further, it establishes a process in which the goals and objectives get realized so the organization can reach the vision.

Follow these five steps to develop and launch a successful strategic plan:

  1. Identify your current position
  2. Define and prioritize your goals
  3. Collaborate and build your strategic plan
  4. Implement
  5. Review, revise, and restructure

A strategic plan will evolve with your long-term goals. Once your organization has achieved most of your goals it is time to create a new one, with new goals and objectives.

Monitor and Evaluate Progress

With goals and objectives in place, it is time to start working on them. It is important you monitor and evaluate the progress of each one.

Goal tracking will help you stay accountable, measure progress, and identify roadblocks. Throughout the process, you can make adjustments depending on how close you are to reaching your goal.

In addition, monitoring your progress will help focus your efforts and ensure time and resources get allocated efficiently.

You have many options when it comes to how to track your progress and gather data. For ease of use, consider goal-tracking software or an app. Asana, Jira, and Trello are a few of the more common ones.

Adjust Your Course and Celebrate Achievements

While reviewing your goal progress, you may need to pivot. Situations could occur internally that demand you rewrite or write new goals and objectives. The loss of funding or staff plays a major role in adjusting your course of action. Positive influences can also encourage you to make changes, as your organization evolves, and new opportunities arise. 

Outside forces may cause your organization to re-evaluate. Consider how the impact of the coronavirus changed the goals of every nonprofit organization.

There is nothing as rewarding as celebrating hard work and success. This step is as vital as planning, writing, implementing, and evaluating your goals and objectives. Take time to acknowledge when your organization has achieved a goal and mention those individuals responsible.

Maximize Your Impact

Before you begin writing goals, define your mission and vision and conduct a needs assessment. As you write your goals use the SMART method to provide focus and clarity. Set both short-term and long-term goals, then decide on objectives for each goal.  

Goal-setting is a fundamental aspect of your strategic planning process. 

Develop a strategic plan to execute your goals and monitor the progress so you can adjust as needed. Don’t forget to celebrate goal milestones and success.

By following these steps and establishing clear goals and objectives, your organization can enhance the strategic planning process, align your efforts, and maximize impact to pursue your mission.