How to Set Goals

How do you set goals?

Many people set goals that are meaningless and have no grounding in reality. You can do better than that.

I see goals as being separated into two categories. First there are high level goals. Things like “engage the community” or “increase sales.”  Next there are specific goals, which I call objectives. Objectives are things like “increase average webpage visit by 10 seconds in 3 months.”

Goals are only useful if they lead to good objectives. If you stop at goals, they are meaningless.

In my interview with Martin Itzkow, he mentioned that he likes to define goals from the desired endpoint and work backwards to the present. If you are working with a non profit organization, consider what it would take for your organization to consider their work complete. That can give you an idea of what is meant by the ideal end state.

The ideal endpoint for your organization is a great place to start with your goal setting. It can set out what your overarching goals are. After you define your goals, you must describe the objectives that you would need to complete on your way to achieving your goals.

When you’re thinking of the ideal endpoint of your organization, you can be as idealistic as you like. That’s the point of the whole exercise. Go ahead and look for the pie in the sky.

After doing that, you do need to come back down to earth to figure out the objectives that need to happen in between the present and the ideal future state.

Figure out what the most important aspects of your organization are, and focus your objectives on those. Your objectives should primarily be focused on the important, but not urgent aspects of operation. Urgent tasks will always pull the resources they need, focus on the important tasks.

Try to make your objectives about either centered on strengths that you can improve upon and areas where you could use development. Your goals must be within your control.

When you are defining your objectives, it is a good idea to use the SMART goal template to make sure they are effective objectives.


SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.


S-  Specific:  Each part of a SMART goal must be specific. We use specifics so that objectives can be measured. Specific timeframes to achieve timeliness. If you’re not specific, you can’t tell if your objectives are achievable or realistic.

M- Measurable:      This can be either numbers or descriptors, although unless you have experience measuring qualitatively I would stick to number based goals. Some examples of measurable objectives are by percentage (10% sales growth for example), by a flat number (30 new clients), or task completion (2nd draft of grant application by September 15th).

A- Achievable:        This depends on the size and flexibility of your organization. If you are a part of a large organization or a quickly growing business, you can be more ambitious with what is achievable for your organization. If you are a part of a small staff, then you have to be more humble with what you consider achievable. 

R- Realistic: Know your limits and the limits of your team. For example, if you are an established non-profit, you shouldn’t expect to be able to triple your clients in a month. Based on past performance, push the boundaries, but just slightly. If you haven’t recorded your organization’s performance before, then set small goals first, and review them after a short period.

T- Timely:    All your goals should have a specific timeframe attached to them. This can be a timeline for review, or a timeline for completion. For example: “Launch Google ad campaign by February 5th,” or “Release new services document 2 months after rebranding.” Remember to keep your timelines realistic, but not too drawn out.

With the SMART template for objectives, and the ideal end state helping you define your goals, you can be confident in your organization’s direction. Now get out there and make some good goals.

Just remember: Keep it simple.