While goals are vital to success, SMART fundraising goals help make sure you’re setting goals that you just can’t miss.

That sounds good, right? “Can’t miss” goals!

In some form or fashion, we’ve all heard how essential goals are.

Want to lose weight? Set a goal!

Want to get a job in a new career? Set a goal!

Want to get good at yoga? Set a goal!

Goals, goals, goals….

The word shows up everywhere!

People are making millions leading seminars and writing books about how to use goals for personal and professional development. Memes about goals are EVERYWHERE.

Even our watches are designed to help us reach our goals, telling us, “You’re 1,216 steps away from hitting your 10,000 step goal for the day.”

So why all of this hoopla about goals?

The reality is this: goals ARE vital to success—especially when fundraising for nonprofits. Fundraising goals help a nonprofit fulfill its mission.

Without fundraising goals, you’re left without direction, uncertain how to get the money you need to grow your nonprofit, change more lives, and make a difference in your community.

Without fundraising goals, you may wander aimlessly from one thing to another just hoping something works out (especially when you’re just learning how to fundraise). It’s disorienting not to have a destination to work toward.

No one wants to be in that boat, but what if you already are? What if you’re trying to find the paddles so you can get moving in the right direction?

The good news is, you’re not alone… and we can help!

Let’s look at how SMART goals can help you row your boat toward your destination of a fully funded budget.

Do Goals Really Work? 

If someone asked you to define what a goal is, what would you say?

Maybe you’d say:

  • A goal is something I’m trying to achieve.
  • A goal is a result I’m trying to reach.
  • A goal is an idea of the future that keeps me focused.
  • A goal is what happens in hockey when a player slaps a puck into a net.

In all instances, you’d be right!

Goals are powerful tools that help channel resources towards solutions. Imagine knowing what you want to achieve and figuring out how to get there… and then actually getting there! A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

Goals boost motivation and ambition.

Reaching them creates a sense of accomplishment and allows you the opportunity to celebrate!

They move you away from disappointment and give you something to be proud of—progress!

Who doesn’t love increased confidence?

So if goals help do all of these spectacular things, why don’t more nonprofit leaders set fundraising goals?

Don’t Fall into One of These Traps…

Unfortunately, there are lots of nonprofits that don’t set SMART fundraising goals (or any kind of goals!). And it’s too bad.

Here are some of the most common reasons we hear about why people aren’t setting goals. Do any of these resonate with you?

“We can’t set goals because we never know how many people (or animals, organizations, etc.) we’re going to help.”  

“It just takes too much time to figure out goals.”

“No thanks. We already know what we want to do, so we don’t need to write anything down.” 

“Ehhh, we got this. We’re doing fine. We don’t need goals.”

“No way. If we come up with goals, the Board and our donors will hold us to them. And if we don’t reach them, they’ll stop supporting us.” 

“What’s the point of setting goals? We never reach them anyway.”

“We tried to set goals one time but never really finished them. So we simply don’t mess with them anymore. Seems like a waste of time”

“Honestly, I don’t think they work.”

Regardless of your nonprofit’s shape or size, setting fundraising goals should be a priority.

This single act is often the difference between a successful nonprofit and a not-so-successful nonprofit.

Fundraising for nonprofits becomes easier when everyone knows what the goals are and can work toward them together. Even a well established nonprofit can benefit from a back-to-basics approach that includes goal setting.

And if you want to be a successful nonprofit—which I hope you do!—setting SMART fundraising goals gives you the direction and focus you need to achieve great things with your fundraising efforts.

So, what exactly is a SMART fundraising goal?

SMART Fundraising Goals

smart goalsSMART is more than an acronym.

It’s a widely used goal-setting model that can help you clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, use your time and resources wisely, and fulfill your mission.

In other words, SMART gives you a structure to follow — enabling you to think about what you really want and how you’re going to get there.

And setting SMART goals for fundraising just makes sense.

Before we move on to the juicier stuff, let’s take a closer look at what the acronym stands for:

  • Specific: Well-defined, clear, and unambiguous.
  • Measurable: Specific criteria that measure your progress toward the goal.
  • Achievable: Attainable and not impossible to achieve.
  • Realistic: Within reach. Realistic and relevant to your nonprofit’s purpose.
  • Timely: Uses a clearly defined timeline, including a starting date and a target date, to help create urgency.

When it comes to fundraising, one of the SMARTest things you can do is develop a fundraising plan for your nonprofit that uses the SMART goal model.

Here’s how you create those SMART goals:

S = Set specific goals for your fundraising activities. For example: “acquire 100 new donors this year” or “write 10 grant proposals before March.” Answer the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, and ‘why’ questions to make your goal specific.

M = Make sure your goals are easily measured. Establishing concrete criteria will help you determine if you’re successful. Think through questions like ‘how much’ and ‘how many’ to make your goal quantifiable, like “acquire 100 new donors this year” which will be pretty easy to measure.

A = Set goals for yourself that can be reached with the skills and resources you have. Don’t set goals that are unrealistic—you’ll just get frustrated and give up. In other words, don’t set a fundraising goal of $1,000,000 if the most you’ve ever raised is $55,000.

R = Set goals that you’re willing to work on and that are reachable. Otherwise, it’s just a dream, and that won’t move your fundraising forward. As I always say, “Hope is NOT a fundraising strategy.” If your fundraising goal is $1,000,000 — and you can’t see the path forward to cross the finish line — the goal is not reachable, and chances are good you’ll give up.

T = Create a timeline for reaching your goals. If you plan to double your donor base, that’s great, but how long will it take? By when will you reach this goal?

Here are some other examples of good SMART fundraising goals:

  • Increase our donor base by 10% (from 950 to 1,045) by December 31.
  • Recruit two new sponsors for our Spring Golf Tournament by March 1.
  • Find 6 volunteers to help sort donations at the thrift store on Mondays. Onboard them and have them in place by April 15.
  • Create a grant calendar by January 1 of the top 10 grants we’ll go after this year.

And here are some bad SMART goals:

  • Grow our donor base.
  • Recruit new sponsors for our Spring Golf Tournament.
  • Find new volunteers to help sort donations at the thrift store.
  • Create a grant calendar.

See the difference?

Good SMART goals are very clear, and you can immediately understand them. You can also figure out quickly what you need to do to reach those goals, and putting the action steps in place is pretty easy too.

Now it’s your turn. What will your SMART fundraising goals look like?

See if you can set one overall SMART goal for your entire fundraising effort for the year, like this:

“Raise $153,000 this fiscal year using appeals, grants, events, monthly donors, Facebook fundraisers, and major gifts.”

Then set a SMART goal for each of those different fundraising strategies (appeals, grants, etc.). Doing this will help reveal what work you need to do for each one.

Once you’ve figured out your SMART fundraising goals, be sure to write them down!


Because the physical act of writing down goals makes them real and tangible.

Think back for a moment. How much time have you spent thinking about doing something? Is it the same as acting on it?

Noooo, it’s not!

Writing down your SMART fundraising goals gives you something to look at and a document to hold you accountable. Plus, you’ll have a roadmap to help you stay on track.

When you’re focused on what you’re doing, you’re directing your energy toward your goals and you achieve better results.

Examples of SMART Goals for Fundraising Strategies

As you’re working on your fundraising plan, use the SMART structure for every fundraising strategy.

Here’s what I mean:

Fundraising Strategy #1 — Individual Donors: How many donors from last year will you renew, convincing them to make another donation in the coming year? How will you get more donations from existing donors? How many new donors will you bring in? Where will you find new donors?

Here is how you could frame your SMART fundraising goals for individual donors:

SMART Goal A: Get 60% of current donors to make a donation by December 31, 2024. We have 920 donors on our list, and we want 552 to make a repeat donation. We will accomplish this through quarterly emails with specific Asks, 2 campaigns via social media, and 2 mailed appeals. [If you really want to nail this goal, make a list of exactly when those Asks will be made.]

SMART Goal B: Increase individual donor list by 20% by December 31, 2024. This means finding 184 new donors. We will accomplish this through 4 house gatherings hosted by Board members, 2 campaigns via social media, 1 signature event, tabling at 4 community events, and 3 speaking engagements.

See how that works?

Now let’s try it with a couple more strategies:

Fundraising Strategy #2 — Monthly Donors: How many supporters will you convince to make the leap to become a monthly donor? How will you convince them to sign up for monthly giving?

SMART Goal: Increase monthly donors by 100% by December 31, 2024. We currently have 17 monthly donors, and we need 34. We will accomplish this by running a monthly donor campaign in July — asking donors who have given multiple times already as well as other supporters who have demonstrated a deep commitment to our organization’s work.

We may sweeten the deal with a challenge gift by asking Board members to contribute $100 for every new monthly donor, for an additional $1,700 in annual revenue. (Donors love matching gifts!)

Fundraising Strategy #3 — Major Donors: How many major gifts will we get this year? How will we get these gifts?

SMART Goal: Increase major gift income by 25% by December 31, 2024, from $30,000 to $37,500. We will start with current major donors, working to renew 4 of them at the same level as last year and working to upgrade 2 of them to make a bigger gift this year than last year.

Next, we’ll ask everyone who gave $250 or more last year (12 donors) to increase their gift to $1,000. Then, we’ll ask 10 people who have not made major gifts but have expressed interest in our work and appear to have capacity to make a gift of at least $1,000 toward a specific need.

Fundraising Strategy #4 — Grants: How many grants will we get this year? How much grant income? How will we get these grants?

SMART Goal: Increase grant income by 20% by December 31, 2024, from $40,000 to $48,000. We will do that by returning to our 7 current grant funders to attempt to get another grant from 5of them. Then, we will approach 7new grant funders that we found from our research.

Fundraising Strategy #5 — Business Sponsors: How many business sponsors will we get for our signature event? How much income will we get through sponsorship? How will we get these sponsors?

SMART Goal: By December 31, 2024, we will secure 15 business sponsors for our first signature event, ranging in cash contributions from $250 to $10,000, for a total of $22,000. This income will cover the cost of the event and provide us with $15,000 in net income.

To accomplish this, we will identify 30 potential business sponsors, starting with contacts from Board members and volunteers then expanding to businesses with a reputation in the community for supporting nonprofit organizations.

How Many SMART Goals Should I Have? 

smart goals

If you have too many goals, you’ll have too much on your plate and you won’t be able to give each goal the attention it requires.

To determine the correct number of SMART goals for fundraising, look around at your fundraising plan and your team.

How many fundraising strategies have you included in your plan? You should have a SMART fundraising goal for each one.

If your fundraising team is just you, keep the number of strategies manageable based on the time and energy you have to put into it. Remember, you can’t do everything, so it’s best to do fewer things but do them really well.

Next, how many people do you have helping you?

Do you have Board members who will help? Do you have paid staff? Active volunteers? Interns? Fundraising Committee?

Think about how much you can personally accomplish and how much your team can realistically do.

I wouldn’t recommend setting more than 10 SMART goals as part of your fundraising plan unless you’ve got some strategies solidly in place. For example, if you’ve been writing and sending appeals for multiple years and feel really confident you can do it again this year, this won’t be nearly as hard as if it’s your first year sending out an appeal.

Set the right number of SMART goals for you to reach your overall fundraising goal. If you need more than 10 SMART goals to reach your total fundraising goal, you may be biting off more than you can chew… and it might be wise to consider a more attainable fundraising goal.

It’s better to blow past the goal you set—that feels amazing!—than fall short of an ambitious goal and feel like a failure. Aim to set the right SMART goals, the right number of SMART goals, and the right total fundraising goal.

Then, go reach those goals!

The Bottom Line 

Whether you love them or hate them, you MUST have fundraising goals to be a successful nonprofit.

If you’re just learning how to fundraise, or you’ve been at it for years, backing up in your planning to the point where you set SMART goals can be a powerful exercise in getting you on the path to a successful fundraising year.

SMART fundraising goals will help you succeed in raising the money your organization needs to grow your programs and fulfill your mission. And that’s what it’s all about!