“Cheshire Puss…Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

                                                 “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll

If you, like Alice, are only concerned with getting “somewhere,” then you can throw goal setting out the window. However, if you want to get somewhere specific, you must strategically develop a plan to successfully reach your intended destination.

Goal setting doesn’t have to be painful. It can be a creative visioning process in which supervisors and staff work together to articulate goals that add value, not just to the organization but also to the development of the individual. The trick is to co-create a vivid and desirable image of your destination. Strong goals aren’t simply pie-in-the-sky statements but include specific plans for action and measures for accountability.

Creating SMART goals

The acronym SMART is one best practice goal-setting method Brighter Strategies recommends. SMART stands for:

  • Specific: establishes details by answering the six “w questions” – who, what, where, when, which, why
  • Measurable: determines tangible outcomes (metrics) to show evidence of progress toward the goal
  • Attainable: describes a goal that can be reached using existing interest, knowledge, and skills
  • Realistic: ensures you are willing and able to work toward the goal you set
  • Timely: grounds a goal in real-time, via a schedule and dates

Here’s a real-life example for you. If you decide your final destination is to successfully run a marathon and you are a new runner, it’s not very SMART to register for a 26.2-mile race in a few months and call it a day. Why? This generic, measureless, wishful, impractical, and unintentional goal will remain on your bucket list until you build SMART benchmarks to get you from point A (today) to point B (completing the marathon). For example, registering for a few shorter distance races before the marathon, creating a training plan, and hiring a running coach, is a much SMARTer path toward your intended destination. Goal setting may seem like common sense when we’re talking about fitness, but are you following these guidelines in your organization?

A workplace example

In the world of nonprofit management, it’s even more important to establish goals in conjunction with invested stakeholders. Their input not only ensures your goals will be SMART, but it encourages their buy-in as you look toward the future.

Let’s say your intended destination is to develop your leadership pipeline for the next five years. Your leadership team is nearing retirement age, and soon you will need to replace some key executive positions. How do you get there?

  • Specific: Identify what positions at which program locations will need to be filled within the next several years, as well as who the potential candidates are to fill them.
  • Measurable: Create a career path and development plan with annual outcomes to move identified successors from their current roles to their intended roles.
  • Attainable: Involve retiring and emerging leaders in the succession planning process so that all stakeholders’ interests and capabilities are accounted for.
  • Realistic: Consider existing internal and external strategic factors to ensure the established timeline is not too aggressive, nor lagging; course correct along the way as need.
  • Timely: Create a schedule for the transition, with planned meetings and development milestones.

How do I get started?

Ideally, goal setting for any person, program, or process should take place in alignment with overall strategic planning. We recommend you review our free e-book, Strategic Planning, for information on organization-wide planning, which includes additional details on goal setting and practical tips for you to take the first step toward your final destination.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is an organization’s process of defining its strategy and making decisions on how to allocate its resources (staff, budget, programs, and services) to pursue that strategy.

The strategic planning process in nonprofit organizations consists of three main components: plan development, plan execution, and plan review. This guide will take you through the process, which includes crafting organization mission, vision, and values statements; conducting a strengths, problems, opportunities, and threats (SPOT) analysis; developing a balanced scorecard with measures to track strategic goals; writing and communicating the strategic plan; and executing and reviewing the plan.

strategic plan ebook