The Importance of Setting Realistic Goals

Posted by admin on Aug 9, 2018 10:04:46 AM

When an organization becomes serious about raising funds to support budgetary needs and/or capital projects it is vital to establish realistic goals based on sound research and thorough planning. Realistic goals are a reflection of the organization’s understanding of its financial structure and its capability to challenge existing funders and prospective donors.

A professional feasibility study or planning assessment is one way to assess the viability of funding goals. In a professionally directed study, confidential interviews are conducted with organizational and community leaders, donors, potential donors, constituents, vendors and others to determine the viability and level of acceptance of the priorities and goals. After careful evaluation of the data, a realistic goal can be set that is based upon personal opinion, a strong case for support, identified volunteer leadership and potential donors.

It is good to aim high – to challenge those who care about the organization’s mission to stretch themselves to new levels of support – while remaining realistic. Challenges that are successfully met engender renewed commitment. With that fresh energy comes enthusiasm, involvement, and interest. Meeting challenges ignites positive energy within people. Setting challenging goals that are realistic enough to be met, is the first step to achieving those goals. As CDS President, David Phillips, has said, “Nothing is more discouraging than running a great campaign and coming up a few thousand dollars short of the minimum goal.”

When setting funding goals, the first consideration should be the organizational needs. Are the program goals going to require funds that are far too great – or are the program goals too small to warrant a capital campaign? The wisest leaders will budget to a plan rather than plan to a budget. Establish the goals of the organization then determine what resources are needed to achieve those objectives. From there, the picture of funding needs begins to emerge.

Consider how much money is needed to fund specific new projects, such as land acquisition, new construction, renovations, programs and endowment. Preliminary costs should be established as accurately as possible. What portion of current income can be allocated to the new projects? Which income sources are most reliable? Which are least reliable? Which income sources have the most growth potential? When you understand your budgetary strengths, and weaknesses, you are better prepared to initiate a fundraising campaign to reach specific funding goals.

According to Thomas Jeavons and Rebekah Basinger in their book, Growing Givers’ Hearts, “it takes an honest, clearheaded examination of the organization’s capacities, strengths, and weaknesses, and those of its constituencies, to avoid the trap of fundraising expectations that are too great or too small.” They explore three issues that organizational leaders should carefully consider when setting goals. “First, organizational leaders should assess the potential for increased giving present within the existing donor base. ... Second, organizational leaders need to be realistic about the number of development staff needed to reach the hoped-for funding goals. … Third, organizational leaders must be realistic in assessing the capacity of board members to “give or get” funds for the ministry.”

As this passage points out, setting goals too high is not the only risk. All too often, organizations aim too low when setting fundraising goals. In an atmosphere of scarcity the leadership may believe there are simply too few donors or too little wealth to attain any degree of growth in contributions. This attitude of doom and pessimism translates into loss of not only funding potential, but a loss of the very elements of enthusiasm and encouragement that can be attained through successfully meeting challenges. Professional guidance through a feasibility and planning study is a practical way to establish an appropriate fundraising goal.

When a realistic goal is set – and achieved – the leaders, donors, and larger community of supporters share the excitement and pride in the accomplishment. There is usually a great deal of positive momentum created by this success. If the needs have grown or the cause warrants additional funding, a challenge goal may be considered that compels new giving. As with the initial goal, a challenge goal should be achievable. Successful fundraising involves a number of strategic factors that are determined through careful study and planning. One of the most important factors for success in fundraising is setting a realistic goal.

Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is one of the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to

Topics: Campaign Feasibility and Planning Studies, Capital Campaigns, Fundraising Principles, fundraising strategy, Professional Skill Building, setting fundraising goals, successful fundraising

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