Setting Realistic Goals

Each year in January many people make a New Year’s resolution or two. The rule of thumb is to make it hard enough that it will require resolve to be successful. However, if it is too hard, only a miracle will produce success. The same is true for the goals your executive and staff set.

If the goals are too easy, no one is inspired by them. If they are too hard, there is a risk that people will find them unrealistic and feel defeated before they start. Since donors want a big return on their investments, a too-small goal is unlikely to increase donor generosity or engagement. A too-big goal is likely to end up only partially fulfilled, which implies providing supports was a waste of money.

If you are confident a too-big goal can be attained, set a milestone that others will find realistically challenging. When a few of the milestones have been reached, you can reveal the too-big goals and how the milestones have laid the foundation that will assure success. The bigger the step forward (goal) the more it contributes to the sustainability of your nonprofit.

Next Step:

Set goals that are inspirational, neither too big nor too small

Reveal audacious goals only after the milestones in the plan have laid a foundation for success

Ensure everyone is committed to achieving the goals

Many goals are missed because someone (donors, staff, board, volunteers, etc.) loses interest. A stakeholder with a weak commitment to a goal can be spirited away by a disappointment in progress or results, a new opportunity that seems better, cheaper, or easier, or an external event. When that happens, support declines. The defection may also cause others to question their commitments. Ensure that you monitor stakeholder commitment and bolster it whenever possible.

Besides having a goal that inspires others, talking about the value of success is the best way to sustain commitment. Stakeholders need to know what the immediate value of pursuing the goal is and the value of attaining the goal. The uniqueness of each stakeholder means that they each perceive value differently but all expect the value to be meaningful, measurable, and durable.

Goals that are mission centric have the best chance of being inspirational. The more value the goals have for clients and your mission, the more commitment you can expect from stakeholders. The level of inspiration and commitment determines how easy it is sustain their interest. When your goals increase the value of your mission and client services, they also increase your nonprofit’s sustainability.

Take It Further:

Preview your goals with a cross section of stakeholders before adopting them

Work with your board to establish a minimum standard for the value a project must produce before it can be approved

Ask your board to measure the success of a project based upon the value it produces rather than the timeliness of its completion or its completion within budget


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