Every year brings new goals and new opportunities for growth for many nonprofits. There are a plethora of goals types and strategies that nonprofits employ on a yearly basis to serve their mission. Some are met and some are not. Nonprofit leaders should realize the value in more realistic goal setting, and how communication can help those goals seem more attainable for the full team.

Many Challenges in 2020 for Nonprofits

It seems that 2020 will be the year for self reflection for many nonprofits. With changes in the giving landscape, the way we communicate our mission, and a focus on how nonprofit professionals are being compensated, nonprofit leaders will especially need to reflect where their leadership lands in the midst of everything.

Forbes Nonprofit Council recently listed nine specific challenges nonprofits will likely face in 2020. Two major themes stand out from their list:

  1. External factors outside of a nonprofit’s control like technological advances and societal or political shifts
  2. Organizational management toward sustainability and growth

These two themes are indicative of a nonprofit leaders’ ability to be have knowledge of and adapt to those external forces that impact their organization’s mission. Because funding and programmatic success can depend on many different things, small to mid sized nonprofits can be especially susceptible to challenges posed by external factors. Small to mid sized nonprofits are typically reliant on local and community funding, albeit grants or individual donors. Without the type of resources to compete with larger shops that can afford to use technology to play the numbers game or pay for top talent, small and mid sized nonprofits are more compelled to be creative in how they reach their goals to serve their missions.

Motivating, and therefore progressing a team to meet specific goals will allow a nonprofit leader to better navigate their organization towards shared success. A motivated and energized team, no matter how small, is a team that works hard to achieve shared organizational goals.

How Nonprofits can be SMART about 2020 Goals

The actual vehicle for setting organizational goals can be important. Larger nonprofits will sometimes conduct whole planning retreats. While that is not always realistic for smaller to mid-sized nonprofits, it is important for all nonprofits to set some time aside for setting, as a team, agreed up and easily understood goals. Getting the whole team together to talk about where the organization currently stands and how to progress forward creates organization-wide buy-in for a healthier, more sustainable nonprofit.

In 2016, Huffington Post wrote about a study proposing individuals were 42% more likely to achieve goals by simply writing them down. Volunteer Hub expanded on that percentage while suggesting a popular strategy for goal setting — SMART goals. SMART goals are written goals to fulfill the SMART acronym of “specific”, “measurable”, “attainable”, “relevant”, and “time-bound”. Inc. suggests a different method and acronym to better keep up with “faster, more agile environments”, CLEAR — “collaborative”, “limited”, “emotional”, “appreciable”, “refinable”.

Both the Volunteer Hub and Inc. articles goes into much more detail on their preferred goal setting method, but the main point is that it is important for nonprofits of any time to devote some quality team building time dedicated to whole team creation of goals. This is the first step in communicating shared vision and ownership for the health and prosperity of the nonprofit.

Communication Really is Key

With the employee retention issues that nonprofits face, it is important for leaders to find a way to grow their mission work with a whole team approach. No matter how realistic or fantastic and attainable a nonprofit’s goals may be, if only one or two people know or understand them, they might as well be nonexistent. In the nonprofit sector, it takes the entire team to reach a mission’s full potential.

A happy, healthy motivated team starts with proper communication. Another fan of SMART goals, Forbes published a 2018 article on how important communicating goals is for employee growth. Their article emphasizes the importance of communicating goals in a way so there is no misunderstandings and so employees can have input. To take that one step further, it is important to allow employee input so they can then have substantial take-aways from the goal setting. Those substantial take-aways being owned actionable items so they, as the employee, can play a key role in achieving those organizational goals.

Communicating goals in a way that is easily understood, with input from the whole team makes sense from even the goal setting basics. Those in charge of one aspect of the nonprofit’s growth might have vital input one why one goal might be unrealistic, as they might be in charge of key components of making that goal happen. Or one department might not realize the resource restraints of another department until everyone gets together and shares ideas on organizational growth. At the very least, the input stage of whole team goal setting starts the conversation on how collaboration could look like in order for the whole team to reach the goals.

A nonprofit will be better served with a team that understands its goals and, the metrics used to define the success of those goals. If that communication happens at the very beginning, then those goals become shared and can extend to motivation for other project work and how to report back metrics on that project work as it relates to overarching goals. Shared goals also, by nature, motivate teams to trust their leadership and work hard to reach organizational goals.

Motivating the Team

Leaders can build trust and buy-in from their employees by allowing their full team to be a part of the organization’s goal setting for the full year. For example, if a nonprofit needs to focus on sustainability and bringing in more revenue, a major goal for the year might be diversifying the organization’s fundraising program to bring in different forms of revenue. That goal would need buy-in from the fundraising team of course, but also communications and finance or accounting and the programs team for impact metrics or donor engaging stories, etc. A collaborative start to that shared goal between the different departments would be to for a leader to sit down with the whole team, be realistic about the necessity of diverse revenue streams, and then ask the team to create a strategic plan for the year together. Naturally, the different professionals needed to make that happen will start to speak with one another on how to make that happen.

Many times, in especially smaller to mid-sized nonprofits, some of these different team players are the same one person wearing multiple hats. A nonprofit leader will gain the trust of that person by realistically acknowledging their multiple roles and asking that professional to help set realistic goals that everyone will be able to achieve. Communicating the need for certain goals can help that one person understand how the different roles they play intersect and relate to one another.

Nonprofits continue to be asked to increase their mission work while resources and incentives are decreased. Goal setting will be important for nonprofits as they continue to navigate the many challenges faced externally and internally. And realistic goal setting is only as realistic as the full team believes it to be.