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How Your Nonprofit Board Can Leverage Short-Term Planning

Mission and vision statements are the cornerstones of nonprofit work. Those words evoke thoughts of solving big problems over long periods of time. To some extent, that’s true. Nonprofit boards would be remiss not to consider the value in setting short-term goals and having a formalized plan to achieve them.

Nonprofit boards typically meet at least annually to develop or revise their overall strategic plan. Best practices for governance suggest that boards should spend the bulk of their meeting time on strategic planning in addition to developing a strategic plan as their base. Otherwise, nonprofit boards may “set it and forget it” and at the next annual strategic planning meeting, they’ll be wondering why they didn’t accomplish anything they set out to do.

Setting short-term goals during the strategic planning meeting requires full board involvement. This is important because it helps all board directors find a place to plug in and it gives them ownership of the strategic plan.

It’s important for nonprofit board directors to recognize that long-term goals often require achieving a series of short-term goals successfully. Together, short- and long-term goal-setting is an effective tool for progress.

Value in Short-Term Goal Setting

It’s faster and easier to achieve short-term goals than long-term goals. As a result, it’s easier for nonprofit board members and volunteers to stay motivated until they reach their goal.

Certain goals naturally lend themselves to achieving them in a shorter time frame than others. Nonprofit boards may decide that certain goals need to have a high priority to fulfill their mission and vision. For goals that will take a longer time to achieve, nonprofit boards can tackle them by breaking them down into smaller goals with actionable steps.

Setting incremental goals will demonstrate that the nonprofit is making progress, albeit in small doses. It’s the collective set of successful small-term goals that drive large impact. As nonprofit organizations can boast a list of accomplishments, it inspires board members, members and volunteers to achieve even greater things.

Breaking Down Large Goals Into Smaller Action Steps

Larger goals will take more thought and planning than shorter-term goals. There are various reasons for this.

Some long-term goals involve many different businesses, vendors, supporters, donors and organizations. It takes time to build relationships with each of these groups or individuals. Projects that require the support and collaboration of outside parties adds to the complexity of planning. It’s not as easy to see progress with long-term goals, which makes it less desirable for volunteers to work on them diligently. Due to the nature of certain goals, it’s impractical to think that nonprofits can achieve all of their long-term goals in a short time. It’s a good strategy for nonprofit boards to set as many short-term goals as they think they can achieve and pick one or more long-term goals to work on over time.

Bear in mind that nonprofit leaders can break long-term goals down into smaller goals, tackling each of them while keeping the long-term goal within their scope. This is a good way for nonprofit boards to measure the progress toward a long-term goal.

Short-Term Goals Are SMART Goals

Many different industries make use of a tool called SMART goal-setting. SMART is a mnemonic acronym that helps groups and individuals to set achievable goals that make sense. The parts of the acronym hold all of the components of good goals.

The acronym stands for:






SMART goals are specific (S). They outline the details of what the group wants to accomplish and how they will define success. The “M” in SMART goals stands for measurable. Nonprofit boards identify a specific way to measure their success. The “A” is for attainable. While it may seem that goals are attainable on the surface, a deeper look may indicate that it’s not as attainable for the short- or long-range at all. SMART goals are reasonable. It makes no sense to set a huge goal for donations if you don’t have active fundraisers working on getting donations. The “T” in SMART is for time-bound. Setting action steps will indicate how long it will take to achieve a goal and help keep the nonprofit accountable for timeliness.

A board portal system by BoardEffect helps nonprofits monitor their strategic plans to help them stay accountable for the short and long term.

Real-Life Example of How a Nonprofit Uses Short-Term Goals That Lead to Long-Term Success

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness and their families. That’s a tall order for an organization that started with two mothers of sons living with mental illness who met over lunch in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1977, over how to improve the lives of individuals living with mental illness.

Today, NAMI is a national organization with state and local affiliates in every state. The national organization guides the state chapters in supporting the local affiliates that do most of the ground-level work. State chapters offer guidance, training, programs and materials to their affiliates.

Local affiliates are the most knowledgeable about the needs of individuals and families in their area. The state chapters offer separate trainings for support group facilitators for individuals living with mental illness and their families, so that both parties get needed support. NAMI also provides training for teachers of educational programs for individuals living with mental illness and their families in separate programs.

Local affiliates set up meeting space for support groups and educational programs and market within their communities to draw attendance. Educational programs often feed attendees into the support groups.

NAMI also supports advocates at the national, state and local levels. Members and volunteers have opportunities to give voice to their concerns by networking with other mental health organizations, supporting valuable mental health policy and legislation, serving on government authorities or councils, and working with lobbyists and activists. Local NAMI affiliates also sometimes host public meetings with their legislators to discuss their views on mental health legislation.

NAMI offers a prime example of how dedicated individuals can join together successfully to accomplish great things. They started small and built on the success of short-term goals to become the nation’s leading voice on mental health in just a few decades.

When nonprofits approach short-term goals in a SMART and organized way, the impact of short-term goals usually yields huge, positive social impact. Small, successive results lead to achieving more complex, long-term goals. Achieving goals for the good of society fulfills the mission of the nonprofit structure, which is to fill the gaps in the services that the government provides to help those who can’t help themselves.

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