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What's in a goal?

You're thinking outcomes โ€” you've clarified your mission and assembled your team. Now it's time to begin generating goals. Traditional goals and impact statements are large and sweeping by nature, outlining your organization's mission and the change you hope to foster in your neighborhood or region. But because these goals are so broad, it can be challenging to measure actual daily progress.

Enter process goals.

Consider process goals the stepping stones that actually lead you over the river and through the metaphorical woods. In the world of the childhood classic "Little Red Riding Hood," the outcome goal is to make it safely to grandmother's house. The process goals might include putting on the red cloak, packing the basket and walking to the river.

Outcome vs. process

While it's essential to develop outcome-related goals for the future, focusing solely on these fixed targets can stress your organization. No matter how hard you work, you may or may not be able to raise as much money as you'd planned or help as many people as you'd hoped. Outcome results are an essential part of the picture, of course, but remember that they're not guaranteed. The ultimate result might hinge on any number of factors, some of which are beyond anyone's control.

The part you can control is the process. Process goals are about moving forward, regardless of the outcome โ€” trusting that the actual process of putting one foot in front of the other will lead you to your goal. The following categories will help you reflect on how to craft a series of measurable and realistic process points that will keep you on track, no matter how long or complex your measurement project might be.

What's in a goal?

In the nonprofit world, goals are all about making a difference. That's the ultimate litmus test. Take time to define what this means for your organization. What are you trying to change about the world? Are you working toward a quantifiable goal, such as number of lunches served? Or an unquantifiable one, such as the benefit of participants' moods improving after class?

The following categories show characteristics of strong goals. For example, strong goals:

Show success

Achieving a goal means something has gone right. How can you document this? What kind of metrics could prove you've succeeded? On a micro level, showing success might be as simple as turning in a report on time. On a macro level, it might be as big as making serious reductions in factory-related injuries worldwide. Aim for scaling how you judge successes in proportion to the size and reach of your organization.

Quantify and track

Now it's time to start talking about metrics. What data can you collect during your measurement cycle that would allow you to observe your program changing over time? For long projects you might need to track data for a year or more. For others it might be acceptable to check in and out over a short period of time. Ultimately, the scope of your project will determine how much and what kind of data you need to track.

Reflect regional or international standards

Many industries already have standard success metrics. If you haven't already familiarized yourself with standards in your industry, now is the time start. Research existing success metrics to see if any of them might provide good "stepping stone" process goals for your project.

Rein in costs

Every nonprofit is constrained to some extent by budget, and many are working on a shoestring. One way to rein in the cost of data collection is to break future big-ticket items or expenses into incremental, affordable pieces realized over a period of time. It's also worth considering how data is collected when talking about cost. Projects that require heavy human capital are naturally going to be more expensive than those that need only a minimum of supplies.

Utilize resources responsibly

What resources do you have at your disposal today? A computer, paper or stock room full of supplies? A beat-up notebook and a dream? Strong process goals shouldn't tax your organization beyond what you can readily bear. Focus on using your available resources โ€” and strive to utilize them responsibly.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Developing program goals and measurable objectives

U.S. Department of Transportation: Performance based planning and programming guidebook

Develop Good Habits: Process goals vs. outcome goals: Which goal setting style is best?



Writer and firm believer in using business as a tool for positive change