Developing Objectives that Drive and Prove Success

Developing Objectives that Drive and Prove Success

Part of any planning process is determining objectives. In order to develop strong objectives, it’s important to understand what they are and where they fit into the plan.

 Objectives will drive your activities and will be what you use to determine your success so they need to be developed carefully.  SMART objectives are the best way to go.

Objectives determine what success looks like – they are developed after and informed by your goals.

So, let’s say that an NGO, we’ll call it Green Queen, is brand new and developing its strategy.  It creates an aspirational mission “to bring fresh flowers to all elderly people who are housebound New York City.”  From there, it builds on the mission to create an inspirational vision “to bring the beauty of the outdoors to those who are confined inside.”

So far so good, most organizations are able to get this far.  But Green Queen, like many organizations struggled with the difference between a goal and an objective.

Goals are what needs to happen to succeed. Objectives are the measurable steps that need to happen in order to achieve that success.  There are usually several objectives for each goal.  Based on that guidance, Green Queen developed the following goal:  to increase the number of elderly who receive cut flowers in New York City.  

Here’s where objectives come in, what will it take for this goal to be successful?  Objectives will drive your activities and will be what you use to evaluate your success so they need to be developed carefully.  SMART objectives are the best way to go.

Green Queen decided that one objective to meet their goal would to reach folks in nursing homes.  But that’s pretty broad, and pretty tough to measure.  A SMART version might look like:

Develop partnerships with 20% of nursing homes in Manhattan and Brooklyn by January 2018.  

  • It’s specific – the objective is about partnership development in two boroughs.
  • It’s measureable – 20% of nursing homes.
  • It’s achievable – rather than all the boroughs, Green Queen selected the two they had the most contacts in and given their all-volunteer nature, they selected a low percentage (20%) for their first year.
  • It’s relevant – it marries up to the goal.
  • Its time bound – the objective should be met by January 2018.

Why Objectives Matter

Well, let’s look at why it mattered to Green Queen.  Their SMART objectives created a road map for them. Green Queen was able to determine exactly what activities were needed and could properly allocate their time, energy and resources to support those specific activities that would bring success.

Throughout the year, Green Queen was able to look at its progress against the objectives to determine if it was on track.  If Green Queen wasn’t, it was able to reassess what it would take to meet the goals.  For instance, if Green Queen found that by mid-year they had only reached 5% of nursing homes in Manhattan but 18% of the nursing homes in Brooklyn, they could reallocate efforts.  By course correcting, they could get back on track to meeting this objective.

Using SMART objectives, at the end of the year Green Queen would have very likely met their goals and be able to prove success.  Here’s an important take away:  success isn’t simply checking the box next to an objective.  It also shows donors your organization is able to successfully plan. It inspires confidence in your organization’s ability to deliver on promises and grow.

Objections to Objectives

Despite the value of SMART objectives, a lot of organizations are reticent to develop them.  “They too specific.”  “They box us in.”  “What if we don’t meet them?”

Well, yes, they are specific and do box you in – and that’s a good thing.  SMART objectives prevent scope creep and getting side tracked.  This specificity doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of emerging opportunities but it allows you to be laser focused on what’s going to bring you success.  SMART objectives also help you plan and properly allocate your resources.  And, if you build your objectives realistically you won’t fail.  This is an important point.  You want to encourage your organization to grow but don’t get so aspirational with your objectives that you have no chance of meeting them.  Green Queen was realistic – they were a young, all volunteer organization.  While some day they plan to reach all elderly housebound (their mission), they needed to develop objectives based on what they could do now.  Next year’s objectives can build on this year’s success, getting them closer to their vision.

While Green Queen is a fictitious organization, the realities it was working in are probably true for most social sector organizations.  It is also true for all organizations that developing SMART objectives can drive and prove success.  We’ve worked with organizations, from small NGOs just like Green Queen to large international multilaterals, to help them think through their planning process and develop strong objectives.  We’d love to help your organization develop a blueprint for success.  To learn more contact Amy at

About the Author:

Amy has close to 30 years’ experience in strategic communication and risk management. As Principal, she provides expertise and technical assistance in strategy, communications, research and evaluation to nonprofits, governments agencies, and other organizations.
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