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How You Can Develop Realistic Goals for Your Nonprofit

A woman writes on a whiteboard as she practices goal setting for her nonprofit.

There are over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the United States, and all of them have a goal to improve and empower their respective communities. They practice goal setting for nonprofits by gearing their projects, programs, and events towards making a difference, helping them achieve their organizational targets.

  • Goals act as a roadmap for organizations. Goal setting for nonprofits encompasses unique long-term and short-term goals, depending on the organization’s mission and the work that they do. But ultimately, your overall long-term goal is to see your mission succeed, and to continuously help your community. This can be done by developing programs that further that mission and effectively engage more people. For the short-term, your goal is to ensure that your programs excel and continue raising funds.


Distinguishing Between Long-Term and Short-Term Goals

Goal setting for nonprofits consist of both short-term and long-term goals. Each work hand in hand to secure your organization’s success and impact the community.


Short-term goals

Short-term goals are considered the steppingstones to your long-term goals. By achieving these specific steps or milestones, nonprofits can make better progress in obtaining their long-term goals. Short-term goals are typically achievable within a span of 12 months.

For instance, an organization might have the long-term goal of increasing online donations. Short-term goals for this could be strengthening social media presence, improving donor engagement, optimizing the website, and executing engaging email campaigns.


Long-term goals

Think of long-term goals as the bigger picture. They are centered on your organization’s overall mission and vision. There are often many moving parts and departments involved to achieve these goals.

Short-term goals and long-term goals are important for the success of your nonprofit organization because they are what draw people in, help you gain more supporters, and encourage donations to your cause. More than 50% of donors cite an organization’s mission — from which goals are derived — as their top motivator for giving. It is vital, however, to remember that goals must be achievable in the long run. That is why SMART goal setting for nonprofits is a must.


SMART Goal Setting for Nonprofits

As a nonprofit, you need to set aside time for identifying your goals, both short-term and long-term. While there is no fool-proof method for achieving your goals, using a SMART template is highly recommended. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.



By being specific, an organization can better identify the action points necessary to achieve its set goals. A general goal, for example, would be increasing the number of sponsors your organization has. A specific goal, in contrast, would be obtaining five new sponsors a week for your organization.



Setting a measurable goal helps you effectively monitor your progress. It allows your organization to see how far you have come and how far you have yet to go. Make your goals easy to measure by using key performance indicators.

A measurable goal is securing a specific amount of donations over a certain period. For example, you could have a measurable goal of raising $100,000 over the next three months. A non-measurable goal, on the other hand, would be to increase your organization’s impact on the lives of its beneficiaries. There is no way of clearly measuring this goal and its progress, and it is unclear as to when it should be accomplished.



While big goals are admirable, they may not necessarily be achievable, depending on an organization’s resources and target time frame. Remember, major change does not happen overnight. When organizations are just starting out, they may lack the equipment, staff, and resources to attain bigger goals. That is why focusing on small, achievable goals can be a better and more efficient strategy.

Being unable to attain a goal can lead to feelings of defeat and demotivation. This is detrimental to an organization’s morale and could hinder team members from achieving other goals. Additionally, achievable goals tend to be more organized. Lack of organization can make goals intimidating to tackle and may provide no roadmap to achieving them, which is counterproductive for an organization.

For example, as much as you may hope to raise $1 billion in the next year, if there is no evidence to prove that this is attainable, then there is no point in setting this ambitious goal. A goal this large will only hurt your team’s morale and overall progress. When it comes to goal setting for nonprofits, it is important to start small and then work your way up as you progressively reach new milestones.



The goals you set need to be relevant to your organization’s overall mission and vision. It is essential to think about how the goal will impact the way you operate. An easy way to check a goal’s relevance is to ask: Will this goal help us to achieve a long-term goal? Additionally, keep in mind that the goals you create should work together to help with your overall mission. For instance, you can set a goal of increasing the amount of ticket sales for your next fundraiser. This is relevant to helping the success of the fundraiser, which will then benefit your overall mission.



Deadlines are essential for nonprofit goal setting. This gives your organization a clear picture of what to work toward and what to expect. This also adds motivation for you to achieve the goal.

When listing out the goals for your organization, you should also set OKRs or Objectives and Key Results. These can help you determine whether or not you have already achieved your goals. Additionally, they can help you optimize your processes to further improve how your organization operates.


Examples of SMART Goals For Nonprofits



Goal: Raise $200,000 within 12 months to purchase 100 new sets of educational materials for the children your nonprofit supports.

✓ Specific: This goal specifies the amount of money required, what the money will be used for, and when it should be accomplished by.
✓ Measurable: This goal is measurable by the amount of money required to purchase 100 new educational materials, and there is a deadline set.
✓ Achievable: The goal of 100 additional sets of educational materials is doable over a 12-month period.
✓ Relevant: This is specifically benefiting the organization’s beneficiaries.
✓ Time-bound: You must accomplish this project within a span of 12 months.



Goal: Double our annual giving revenue each year for the next 3 years.
(The current annual giving revenue should be noted to ensure that this goal is specific and measurable.)

✓ Specific: You are specifying the required increase and the frequency of which the revenue should be doubled.
✓ Measurable: This goal can be clearly measured through each year’s annual giving revenue.
✓ Achievable: Although the end goal may sound intimidating, when broken down into three annual goals, it is much more attainable and easier to tackle. If the goal is not achieved one year, then the new goal will automatically be decreased to compensate.
✓ Relevant: This is relevant to your organization because annual giving allows for immediate change.
✓ Time-bound: This goal must be completed in three years, with annual milestones to meet.


Staying Aligned with Your Nonprofit’s Goals

It is essential for your team to be aligned with your overall mission and goals as you embark on nonprofit goal setting. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and working toward the same objectives. It also helps with the overall focus of the team, helping you achieve your goals faster. Your team needs to be:

  • Involved in the goal-setting process
  • Empowered by their own SMART goals
  • Encouraged to share their own perspectives about what the organization can improve on
  • Educated on how to set SMART goals

By optimizing how your nonprofit sets and achieves goals, you will have a much higher chance for success. Remember to work SMARTer, not harder.


Find out more about how Donor Compass™ can help your nonprofit achieve its goals here.