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Understanding The Fundamental Differences Between Short-term And Long-term Planning

The Difference Between Short-Term and Long-Term Goal Planning

Beyond the obvious, knowing the differences between short- and long-term planning can help nonprofits navigate their paths from the present to the future with demonstrated progress toward achieving their goals. Every board needs directors who are great visionaries. Establishing and working toward specific short- and long-term goals helps boards bring these visions to life.

Long-term goals are inherently strategic. This characteristic is why long-term goals shape the overall direction of the organization. The success of achieving long-term goals is a reflection of how well the board conforms to the organization’s mission.

By contrast, short-term goals are a reflection of how well the organization’s programs are performing. Effective board directors know that it takes establishing, monitoring and achieving short- and long-term goals to help the organization progress.

The Relationship Between the Mission and Goal-Setting

Nonprofit board directors are wise to put a lot of thought and discussion into developing clear purpose and mission statements for their organizations. All of the activities of the organization, including short- and long-term goals, drive success according to their purpose.

It’s not enough just to have a clearly stated purpose and mission. Nonprofit boards need to share a clear, joint understanding of the nonprofit’s core purpose. The mission statement should reflect what the board intends to do and outline the means for how they will accomplish it. This is where the goals become an important factor.

Short- and long-term goals each have a distinct purpose in helping the board achieve its stated mission. In determining goals for both categories, the board of directors must make a determination of where they currently are and where they want to be in three to 10 years. Developing long-range planning requires extensive analysis on the board’s part so that they can determine which strategies will most likely help them achieve their goals.

How SMART Goals Help Nonprofit Boards Set Achievable Goals

Perhaps you’ve wondered why some people set goals and never achieve them. The reason may not be a lack of motivation. Rather, the obstacle may be in the wording of the goals. There’s an easy way to solve this problem, and that is by making sure that goals are SMART goals.

SMART is an acronym for:



A-Achievable, attainable

R-Relevant, realistic

T-Time-based, time-measured

Businesses, educational institutions and many other industries rely on SMART goals to help them develop achievable goals.

SMART goals state the goals in specific, not broad, terms so that boards know exactly what they’re trying to achieve. The “M” stands for measurable. Boards should identify a way of measuring the goal, so that they have a benchmark of knowing when they’ve achieved it. SMART goals are achievable. Boards may put them under a short- or long-term plan, and they should be plans that the board can achieve. SMART goals are also relevant and realistic. Boards should easily be able to relate short- and long-term goals to the organization’s mission. The “T” is for time-measured. Boards should list goals in the short- or long-term plan and identify a specific timeframe for achieving them.

What Makes Short-Term Goals Different Than Long-Term Goals?

Most boards define the timeframe for short-term goals as goals they’d like to achieve in under five years and more likely within one to three years.

Short-term goals have an operational component, with action plans for the immediate future. They also form the action plan for achieving each of the long-term goals. Action plans usually contain daily or weekly activities.

How to Develop Effective and Achievable Long-Term Goals

Boards should place goals that will take a minimum of five to 10 years to achieve in the long-term goal planning stage, using the mission statement as a guideline. Long-term goals form the broad strategy that maps out a long-term plan for the organization’s purpose.

The broad approach to long-term planning requires boards to monitor and evaluate long-term plans on a regular basis and adjust them accordingly. Long-term goals should have periodic milestones or benchmarks for the board to use in evaluating their progress.

An Example of Short- and Long-Term Planning Using SMART Goals

Let’s say that a nonprofit started up in a community with the goal of preventing homelessness in persons living with mental health disorders. Their charter states this as their purpose and mission.

In working together toward achieving their mission, the board knows that to accomplish this, they will need to provide for basic living needs, such as food, water, shelter and healthcare for the homeless.

Long-term goals to help the board accomplish their mission may include things like:

  • Opening a local office.
  • Building or locating suitable housing.
  • Partnering with food banks, soup kitchens, and community agencies for food supply.
  • Partnering with local clinicians who can provide low-cost or no-cost mental health care.
  • Developing a long-term outreach plan to offer services to the homeless.

Establishing long-term goals should make it fairly easy to identify what the board needs to do to achieve them. Tasks that help achieve long-term goals become the short-term goals. First, the board needs to identify the functions that they need to form their short-term goals. Some of the functions may include things like:

  • Planning
  • Funding
  • Staff recruitment
  • Management
  • Administration
  • Financial management

The functions will help the board plan for whom to assign responsibility for achieving each goal. At this point, the board can establish short-term SMART goals. For example, to open a local office, the board will need the functions of funding to make sure that they can fund the expenses, administration to set up and staff the office, management to administer the programs, etc.

SMART goals will outline what the assigned party will do and how they will do it, and establish a timeframe for them to accomplish them. Short-term goals should also directly relate to one of the long-term goals.

If the long-term goal is to open an office, the short-term goals will be to raise a certain amount of funds by a certain date, locate a real-estate agent to help locate a facility, define when to recruit and interview staff, and establish a target date for a grand opening.

Effective goals in both categories are well-thought-out and SMART. The key to making short- and long-term goals work for nonprofits is to understand not only their differences but how they work hand-in-hand toward advancing the mission.

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