Here’s Why Your Nonprofit Team Isn’t Hitting Its Goals

Your nonprofit likely has many goals it wants to accomplish, ranging in priority, scope and timeline. For example:

  • Raise $75,000 in individual donations.
  • Create a marketing and communications plan. 
  • Hire a development director by the end of Q4.
  • Create a bigger impact.

As you can see, some of these goals are very broad and worldly, while others are regarding a specific tactic. However, for you to lay a path to accomplish your goals, your nonprofit should follow a similar structure for writing each of your goals. 

Further, measuring your goals will prevent progress from slipping through the cracks. As the saying goes, “you manage what you measure.” When a nonprofit has urgent matters to see to, the organization doesn’t want to take the time to collect and measure data. However, more than any other tactic, being disciplined and measuring progress will significantly improve your strategic planning skills. 

How to Write Stronger Goals

I define a goal as a specific and measurable desired achievement. In addition, essential elements of a goal are:

  • A goal topic for your goal team to understand what the goal is about. For example, “staff engagement.”
  • A due date and, ideally, a start date.
  • A goal champion that is responsible for ensuring the goal is completed.
  • A list of any key team members that will help the champion complete the goal.

All of these items live within your strategic plan.

Looking back at the list of goals I mentioned earlier, there are two types of goals represented — process goals and results goals. “Raise $75,000 in individual donations” represents a results goal because there is a numerical result. Therefore, “Create a marketing and communications plan” is a process goal because it leads to the completion of a plan, process or system. While each goal is useful to your strategic plan, be sure to take advantage of process goals that create long-term impact for your nonprofit.

In their book, “Switch: How to Changes Things When Change Is Hard,” authors Dan and Chip Heath indicate that process goals — or what they call “behavioral goals” — may be nearly three times more effective than results goals at catalyzing change and obtaining results.

“In a pioneering study of organizational change, described in the book ‘The Critical Path to Corporate Renewal,’ researchers divided the change efforts they’d studied into three groups: the most successful (the top third), the average (the middle third) and the least successful (the bottom third). They found that, across the spectrum, almost everyone set goals: 89% of the top third and 86% of the bottom third. A typical goal might be to improve inventory turns by 50%. But the more successful change transformations were more likely to set behavioral goals: 89% of the top third versus only 33% of the bottom third. For instance, a behavioral goal might be that project teams would meet once a week and each team would include at least one representative of every functional area. Until you can ladder your way down from a change idea to a specific behavior, you’re not ready to lead a switch.”

Make sure you document a clear set of behaviors or processes you will build and implement to achieve your results goals.

How to Measure Your Goals

With the rise of software that captures all of our data, nonprofits need an approach for using technology to track their progress. However, I understand that this can be difficult to implement. 

When building your team’s goal-measurement muscle, instead of focusing on results, focus instead on the process of measuring results. Commit to measuring your goals on a regular basis. Report on this process with your team, but don’t focus as much on the numbers themselves.

A traffic-light system can be a simple way to measure goals. Green may mean “on track,” yellow for “slow progress” and red for “off track.” Keeping it simple will make sure it happens regularly and not be too onerous.

Over time, as you and your team build your measurement discipline then you can begin raising the expectation for actually hitting your goals. 

How often should you measure goal progress? Monthly check-ins will keep the goal in sight. At each check-in, regularly measure how you’re achieving your goals by asking “what worked?” “what didn’t work?” and “what do you intend to change?” so that you’re more successful in your journey to goal achievement.

Writing and measuring goals doesn’t have to be all that challenging. Discuss this guidance with your team today, and you’ll be on the way to making goals work effectively at your nonprofit.