Every nonprofit organization needs goals to operate effectively. Long-term goals are strategic in nature. They shape the direction of the organization and typically focus on a five- to 10-year period. Short-term goals frequently have an operational component and include action plans for the immediate future, such as the period following the goal-setting exercise. For goal-setting to be effective, each goal must have a realistic timeline, list the deliverables required and identify measurements to apply to determine when the goal has been achieved.

Defining the Mission

To determine long-term goals effectively, the board of directors needs to have a clear, joint understanding of the nonprofit’s core purpose. The directors typically spend time brainstorming and develop a list of terms to describe the organization’s mission and vision. They discuss these terms and vote or agree on the ones that they believe best signify the purpose of the nonprofit. When they agree on the main reason for the organization’s existence, this information forms the basis of a written mission statement. The mission statement should be brief and should state exactly what the organization aims to achieve and how it intends to do so.

Setting Long-Term Goals

Using the mission statement as a guideline, the directors map out a long-term plan for achieving the organization’s defined purpose. This becomes the nonprofit’s broad strategy, which includes the major milestones that it needs to achieve to reach its goals. For example, if an organization’s mission is to reduce the number of homeless people in a particular region, the long-term goals could include key result areas such as establishing a housing office, setting up an employment agency to help people find work and developing educational facilities to improve skills and training.

Identify Functional Areas

Armed with the broad strategy and the mission of the organization, the board of directors can identify the functional areas that require individual action plans. Using the aforementioned example, the goal of establishing a housing office requires planning, funding, staff recruitment and management. By identifying these as functional areas, the directors can move on to setting short-term objectives for each of the long-term goals. Additional functional areas exist that underpin a cross-section of the organization’s activities, such as administration and financial management, and these also require short-term goals to guide their actions.

Setting Short-Term Goals

For each functional area, the directors need to identify the time frame for which they are setting short-term goals. This is typically based on the time frame of the overall strategic goal. For example, the goal to establish a housing office may be allocated a time frame of five years. During this period, the short-term goals that the nonprofit must achieve could include obtaining government approval, sourcing funding for the offices, renting premises and hiring suitable staff. Each of the short-term goals then requires an action plan with daily or weekly activities to achieve it, such as appointing a fundraising team, writing grant proposals and identifying a commercial real estate agent to help find premises.