Setting SMART Giving Goals

Setting a SMART fundraising Goal

Not meeting your fundraising targets? The goal itself should speak to donors and demand urgency.

Many nonprofits feel frustrated and disappointed when they don’t achieve their fundraising goals. It’s understandable—what are we doing wrong? Why don’t our donors care?

The trouble is that they do care… but they may not feel inspired to give right now, for this campaign.

So what do nonprofit fundraisers do about a lack of inspired giving? It’s a problem that’s easier to solve than you think.

What’s Missing from Your Fundraising?

Successful fundraising stems from a few key components: messaging, motivation, and emotional connection. Donors need to know what you want them to do, why it’s so important to do now, and what it means for achieving the mission.

But most importantly, great fundraisers understand the most important factor in generating generosity among donors: a clear, meaningful goal that will truly inspire your supporters to give.

All of the other stuff is just window dressing unless you have a tangible target to reach at the end of your campaign—and donors can feel it when the underlying goal isn’t speaking to their hearts.

How to Design a Truly MOTIVATING + SMART goal

Creating a fundraising goal that inspires donors to give—and give big—isn’t that difficult! But it does require doing a little soul-searching first about what it is you want to achieve, and whether that destination aligns with your donors’ needs and motivations.

So how do you set a goal that truly inspires supporters to give to the cause? We like to use the SMART method:

Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Based!

S | Specific

Some nonprofits forget to set a goal at all, and simply send out asks for donations when they need a little help or start a new campaign. Without a specific ask, it can make donors wonder if their money is better spent elsewhere on a more tangible and urgent need.

Setting a specific goal, with a clearly outlined achievement at the end of it, demonstrates to donors that the money is going somewhere needed and useful right now. Refine the scope of your goal to one narrow and specific purpose—what one thing will accomplishing this goal change, and why is that change so critical to the overall mission?

M | Measurable

Even more important than a narrow scope is a measurable scope. That is, will it be obvious when the fundraising goal is met? Is the purpose of that money something that can be seen, heard, touched or felt?

Measurable goals serve as somewhat of a resumé for your nonprofit, too. It shows that you understand how to do the work and know what individual steps are needed to achieve it. You may measure is by dollars raised, average donation size, number of donors, volunteer hours, or anything you can tangibly capture and report on.

A | Achievable

Perhaps your goal is a carefully calculated number that would ultimately result in a measurable accomplishment. That’s great—but does your donor base have the giving power to actually reach it?

A goal that feels realistic and achievable inspires donors because it feels within reach. Every donor wants to be on the winning team, and see that promise become reality. But a goal that’s unreasonably high for the size or means of your nonprofit can appear amateur and have the opposite effect.

It’s even better to successfully accomplish a goal. At the end of the day, this demonstrates to donors that you’re an authority in your cause area and you know what it takes to make tangible change.

R | Relevant

Not just any measurable, achievable goal is a good goal for inspiring donors. Fundraising goals should also directly relate to the cause area, and appear to be a critical step in the roadmap to accomplishing your nonprofit’s overall mission.

Even if the goal is small—because that’s what’s achievable for your organization—it needs to fit into this roadmap. A community garden organization could choose to fund a single shed, pathway, or even a row of garden beds, as these are all goals relevant to their mission and reasonable enough to be reached within a small period of time. Then, once built, it’s easy to show off the final product and the impact it’s made on the community.

T | Time-Based

We mentioned earlier the importance of urgency in successfully meeting a fundraising goal. Without a deadline, it’s easy for donors to say, “Not today. I’ll donate tomorrow.”

Make sure that your SMART goal is asking donors for their gifts “Today!” Whether it’s a deadline like the closing of a facility, a submission date for construction plans, or Giving Tuesday, having an end date for achieving your goal is critical to inspiring donors to give right now.

What do SMART Goals look like?

Let’s say that an organization delivering holiday meals is down one van, and needs a new one before the holiday season starts in November. The van is the specific goal, and the measure is the cost of a van, with an achievable but urgent fundraising goal that’s relevant to the cause.

What about a matching gift campaign? Perhaps you have a sponsor willing to match gifts made on a particular day (anniversary, cause-related holiday, or an event-related date), but those gifts must cross a certain threshold. You have a narrow scope, a fundraising ceiling, and a timely deadline.

Apply this formula to any of your fundraising goals, and watch your donors give with a renewed passion for the cause!


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