How to Set Goals for Your Nonprofit Organization

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Many nonprofit leaders are hesitant to create major goals this year, given the instability and uncertainty across the country and in our industry. The fundraising landscape has changed drastically in the last year as donors are reconsidering priorities, so nonprofit leaders are being forced to pivot and adapt constantly.

It may seem easier to stay the course, aim low, and hope for the best in terms of fundraising and programmatic objectives. However, it is vitally important, now more than ever, to create goals for your organization.

What you focus on expands.

Goals help us give regular focus to the end result we want to achieve. When we institute goals, we naturally steer focus there, which drives success.

A big goal without a tactical action plan is not likely to be successful. We need to understand the smaller steps that lead to a larger goal. So the process and plan we discuss below gives you a roadmap to get from where you are now to where you want to be and create the impact you want to achieve.

Goals may look different in each season, but the process of setting goals in your organization remains the same. Here are the five steps your organization should consider to set a strategic plan for the year that you will actually follow and achieve.

  • Shift your goal-setting mindset. Rather than thinking of your goals, strategic plan, or budget as rules that you must live by, think of them as a flexible roadmap to help you carve a path to your mission and vision. Instead of creating goals rooted in scarcity (e.g. We can only raise $100k this year so let’s see how much we can cram into that budget), create goals rooted in abundance (e.g. We need about $250k to operate the organization effectively and run our programs, so let’s figure out how to raise $250k). Remember, your goals should be a flexible roadmap to abundance!
  • Format your goals for success. A goal without a plan is just a wish, and a list of wishes won’t get your organization very far. I recommend using a template that breaks down your biggest vision into achievable tactics so you can look back on the year knowing you’ve accomplished it all.
    1. This starts with your big picture vision – in three years, where do you want your organization to be? 
    2. Then comes 3-5 strategies to help you achieve that vision  – what are the major initiatives you’ll need to accomplish to get you closer to the vision:
    3. Finally are 3-5 tactics under each strategy to actually get things done. These are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) and will comprise your to-do list throughout the year.
  • Align your goals and your budget. Your budget and goals must work together. You don’t want to set out to achieve some lofty goals then realize you didn’t budget for any of the resources you’ll need to actually achieve those goals. Review your goals, determine exactly what resources you’ll need to accomplish them, and include those in the budget.
  • Involve the team in goal-setting. When nonprofit leaders involve their teams in goal-setting and are transparent about the direction the organization is going, the team gains a greater sense of ownership for the success of these goals. When your team has a greater sense of ownership, they will be more engaged and committed to accomplishing the goals. But how do you actually involve your staff?
    1. Create teams either by department or cross-department, depending on the size of your organization
    2. Set parameters for the team so the goal-setting process doesn’t become a wishlist exercise. An example is: What are our three most important strategies for next. year?
    3. Bring the team’s work back to discuss as a larger group and incorporate suggestions into the organizational goals.
  • Roll out your goals. Many organizations fall into the habit of setting ambitious goals, getting the team fired up about them, then promptly forgetting about them until it’s time to set goals once again. This is a surefire way to not accomplish the impact you want to have. Here’s what to do instead.
    1. Share your goals with the entire team. Even if they didn’t participate in the goal-setting process, share your vision, strategies, and tactics with the entire organization (board too!) so you can get excited together about where you’re headed and hold each other accountable.
    2. Make your goals visible. Instead of printing them out, putting in a binder, and filing that binder away for the year, hang your goals on the wall! Give each team member a laminated copy to hang at their desk. Put them in the office break room. 
    3. Hold everyone accountable. Report on your goals at your staff meetings at least quarterly, so everyone understands the progress and how they can contribute to the organization’s success.

Now that you know the five steps to creating goals for your nonprofit organization that will actually help you make the impact you want to have this year, it’s time to implement. The beginning of a new year, when you’re also creating your budget, is perfect timing to set these goals, but starting fresh anytime is okay.

Stephanie Skryzowski is a Chief Financial Officer that helps purpose-driven leaders better understand and use their numbers to make smart decisions and grow their impact. She is the Founder and CEO of 100 Degrees Consulting which provides CFO and bookkeeping services to nonprofits and purpose-driven businesses around the globe. When she is not crunching the numbers in Excel, Stephanie is hiking and exploring with her husband and young daughters.