February is the month of love.  Valentine’s Day.  Roses.  Chocolates.  Taking the time to tell the people you care about that they matter.  You know the drill.

But taking time and investing in relationships isn’t just something we need to do in our personal and family lives.  It’s also something we need to do at work.   Management staff, especially, need to do this with your teams.  And while treating the folks who work with you and for you to treats of some kind is always a good idea, there’s one gift every team deserves – a good set of goals.

Seriously?  Yep, goals.  Clearly stated goals and objectives that help team members see where the group is heading and what each of them needs to accomplish along the way are essential to both employee and manager.  Good goals provide an agreed-upon structure or context within which progress can be evaluated.  Without this context, it’s hard for anyone to really assess if all the work and effort is on target and moving the organization in the right direction.  And if your nonprofit organization is like many others, there’s always a non-stop array of demands, some of which eat time and keep employees away from more strategic work.

So how do you as a nonprofit leader go about setting good goals?  Here are some tips:

Begin at the Top

Make sure you understand your nonprofit organization’s top five goals for the year. What is it trying to accomplish?  Where is it headed?  Is it seeking to strategically expand services in a key area, raise money for a new initiative, increase brand presence, take a leadership position on a critical issue?  Whatever the goals are, it’s important for managers to understand them before sitting down to talk to team members about their own goals.  Why?  Because the goals should trickle…or flow…from one to the other.  What each team does should support the organization’s goals (and, by extension, what each person on the team does should support the overall group’s objective.)

Collaborate

Approach goal setting as a communal process, one where each party brings ideas to the table.  Share ideas.  Discuss how potential goals relate to the organization’s objectives that year.  Use the time to make sure everyone understands the broad view, then narrow that view to what the team needs to accomplish and how each person plays a role in that success.  This is a time both for listening and leading.

Discuss the Difference Between a Goal and a Tactic

It’s really easy, in situations like this, to come up with a long list of things to do in the coming year.  But usually that list is pretty tactical, made up of the actual activities or projects that need to be completed.  To be clear, these tactics are not goals.  Take a step back, with your team, and talk about the goal these tactics are trying to help your organization accomplish.  A simple example: running an event and having a certain number of people attend is not a goal.  It’s a means to an end.  The actual goal may be about broader awareness, increased revenue or maybe increased brand presence.  To be clear, this is the tough part of the discussion, reorienting the way many people think – around the actual to do items versus the strategic reason why you take certain actions.

Pick Five

A wise manager once taught me that  no one should have more than five goals, that everything an organization, a team or a person does should be oriented around addressing one of five key areas mapped out in their annual goal sheet.  This mantra, which I have found to be very helpful, assists in the goal vs. tactic discussion, where you work to group together the tactics that help you achieve something greater.  For those in supervisory positions, one of these five should be about people management.

Agree on How to Measure Success

With five goals along with a set of tactics tied to each, make sure you spend time working out how to determine what success looks like.  How will you know if the team or an individual employee accomplishes the goal?  This can be really hard.  Although some measures are very clear (like the amount of dollars raised), others are downright fuzzy.  (How do you know if your marketing messages are being received, for example?  Using the number of emails sent doesn’t tell you anything about readership.  But looking at open and click-through rates does.)  Be creative, and collaborate on a list of accountabilities that get to the heart of what you are trying to achieve.

Keep the Goals Alive

Once established, make sure your team’s goal sheet doesn’t get stuck in a drawer and ignored.  It should be a living document (as should each team member’s associated goals).  Use the sheet to help evaluate progress every couple of months, discuss if anything has changed, and check to see if the measurements you selected are really helping you track success.  If they aren’t, agree to change them.

Goals sound like sure a boring topic, something we have to do each year along with an annual review.  But goals are at the heart of collaborating on and setting expectations that help both you as a manager and your team.  With good goals in place, you are better able to celebrate the success of your team, acknowledging key milestones and helping your staff see how they are making a difference.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Hutchisson is the vice president of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud, headquartered in Charleston, SC.  She is responsible for the company’s global corporate citizenship efforts, a role that allows her to leverage her 20+ years of experience of working with nonprofit partners.  She is a member of the board of directors for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International, the Giving Institute (producers of Giving USA), and the Coastal Community Foundation.  She is also a Past President of the AFP SC Lowcountry chapter. Rachel is a graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, and received a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.  A member of Phi Beta Kappa, she is a Renaissance Weekend participant and was the recipient of the Charleston Regional Business Journal’s Influential Women in Business Rising Star Award.  Rachel is an avid soccer fan and spends far too much time driving to remote parts of the state to watch her children play.  Connect with Rachel on Twitter at @RachelHutchssn or on LinkedIn.

Get nonprofit articles, best practice advice, fundraising ideas and invaluable industry reports and webinars delivered for free!