How to set realistic goals in fundraising — and why you should have two sets of goals

Nonprofits are nothing if not ambitious. Just look at those mission and vision statements. But how can we channel those big, huge, ambitious organizational goals into realistic goals in fundraising? If your organization struggles to reach its fundraising goal every year, it may be because you have just one goal.
When you set a public fundraising goal, it’s set in stone, and that pressure can lead to greater performance. But if the number is too ambitious it may work against you: When a goal feels unachievable, your employees may feel inadequate or as though they are being set up to fail. At the same time, when a goal seems easy, people won’t work as hard to achieve it and won’t feel the same level of satisfaction. Consider setting two goals to meet the mark both internally and externally:

  1. A conservative, public-facing, realistic fundraising goal that holds your team accountable
  2. A more ambitious, internally-facing, stretch goal that pushes your employees to go above and beyond

Now, how do you actually set fundraising goals that walk the line of ambitious enough, but not unrealistic?


We know you are smart, but are your goals? They should be:


Say exactly the number or percentage you want to reach: “$40,000 in seasonal giving between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve” or “40% increase from last year,” as opposed to  “more money.”


Again, the goal should be quantifiable. And make sure you have tracking in place on your website or with your third-party donation platform so you can measure your progress throughout the year or campaign.


This is where you set your two different goals: One that’s a realistic goal, and one that’s more ambitious (literally designed to stretch your team, in a good way).


Why are you setting this fundraising goal? What is the goal of the goal, so to speak? Look back at your mission statement, budgets, and expenses to find the numbers that will help you drive impact.


There should always be a deadline you are trying to reach. When do you want to reach these goals? Set a date and then draft a timeline working backwards, fitting in checkpoints or dates when you will track your progress along the way. For example, if you set an annual fundraising goal of $40,000, break that down into quarterly goals, aiming to raise $10,000 every three months.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

The easiest way to take your fundraising goal from real-scary to realistic is to pace it out. Fundraising is a marathon, not a sprint. Just as you would set incremental goals in order to run a marathon (be able to run 5 miles in the first month of training, 10 miles in the second month), you want to break down your overarching goals in fundraising into more manageable, time-boxed goals. This is where the “T” in SMART comes in handy. Set progressive goals for each checkpoint, and remember to check in regularly so you can make sure you are on track to complete that marathon.

Actually, it’s a relay, not a marathon

To reach your goals in fundraising, it takes a village. Set incremental SMART goals for each department and employee. This way you’re all working towards your 2 main goals: The realistic goals and ambitious goals. Remember to clearly delegate work accordingly, and encourage coworkers to be transparent about their progress and whether or not they need help.
Now go set those goals! And be sure to check out our fundraising resources for campaign ideas, and our analytics resources for tips on tracking.