How to Set Better Fundraising Goals for Your Nonprofit

Your nonprofit’s fundraising goals can make a big difference in the success of your campaigns. Learn how to set ambitious, achievable goals in this guide.

To get the funding you need to further your mission and reach beneficiaries, your organization likely spends a lot of time and energy on fundraising. From event planning to major gift cultivation, there are countless fundraising activities you could engage in. But if you’re not setting goals that effectively drive your team to success, you could be missing out on crucial funding opportunities.

In this article, we’ll cover five ways you can improve your approach to goal setting to cultivate success for any fundraising campaign:

1. Start with your nonprofit’s mission
2. Assess past fundraising performance
3. Set a topline revenue goal and deadline
4. Determine strategic focus areas
5. Use the SMART framework

Effective goals are only the beginning of a comprehensive fundraising approach, but they’re a key piece of the puzzle. Let’s explore these tips so you can build a strong foundation for your next campaign.

1. Start with your nonprofit’s mission

When you begin any fundraising campaign, take time to reflect on your mission. Whether you plan to host a large fundraising event or an online peer-to-peer campaign, make sure the type of campaign and the initiative it supports align with your mission before setting any goals. If the campaign isn’t aligned with your mission, it may be hard to gain the support you need to reach your goals, no matter what they are.

NXUnite by Nexus Marketing suggests also considering the impact of the campaign upfront. Gather your team and ask questions like:

  • How will you help beneficiaries with this funding?
  • What specific projects, initiatives, resources, or programs will this funding support?
  • How will donors feel about the results of this campaign if you’re successful?
  • If you aimed higher than you have for previous campaigns, how much more of a difference could you make?

Thinking about the potential tangible impact of your campaign can inspire you to set more ambitious fundraising goals. As a bonus, you can come back to these answers when you’re ready to launch your campaign and use them to inform your marketing strategy.

2. Assess past fundraising performance

Once your thinking is aligned with your mission and you’re motivated to set ambitious goals, ground them in reality by assessing your organization’s past campaign performance.

If you’re planning a capital campaign to fund a major project, you should conduct a full feasibility study to determine if the campaign is realistic for your organization to launch right now. If you’re running a more general fundraising campaign, look at the data in your CRM and use past campaign results as a guide for crafting your new goals.

When you look back at your past fundraising campaigns, look closely at metrics like:

  • Total amount of funds raised
  • Number of donors that contributed
  • Types of revenue sources
  • Number of new donors acquired during the campaign
  • Distribution of donors by giving level

Along with these metrics, take stock of any general successes and challenges from your previous campaigns. What did your team do well? Where did you fall short? The answers to these questions can help you determine where to focus your attention for your current campaign’s goals.

3. Set a topline revenue goal and deadline

Next, set a specific goal on the dollar amount you aim to raise in this campaign. How you set this goal will depend on the type of campaign you’re running:

  • If it’s a capital campaign, your revenue goal will be the amount of money you need to fund the project. Conducting a feasibility study will help determine if this goal is attainable and the duration between your quiet period and the public phase.
  • If it’s a general campaign, take your past fundraising campaign data and set a goal higher than your total amounts raised in the past. This will ensure that the goal is ambitious but also realistic. 

Either way, you should also take into account your projected operational costs for the year, as this could mean you need to set a higher goal to cover these expenses. You may need board input to get the full picture of your finances. It’s worthwhile to keep them involved in the planning process since you’ll need their buy-in on the campaign budget and other key aspects of your plan as you get further along.

After you’ve finished setting your goals, you can flesh out a full timeline for your campaign, including stages for planning, kickoff, and follow-up. For now, setting a single deadline to achieve your topline revenue goal is a good starting point.

4. Determine strategic focus areas

The main focus of every nonprofit fundraiser is to generate more revenue for your cause. Additionally, after setting your topline goal, you should set smaller goals to advance other strategic areas of focus for your organization. 

Along with increasing total revenue, Donorly’s fundraising plan template lists three common focus areas to consider:

  • Donor acquisition: Fundraising campaigns can be the perfect way to attract new supporters, especially if you run a peer-to-peer campaign that relies on volunteers to introduce your nonprofit to new social circles. Set a goal for the number of new donors you hope to gain or the percentage you want to increase acquisition by compared to your last campaign.
  • Donor retention: If you notice an increased number of lapsed donors when looking at your past campaign data, prioritize retention by setting a goal for how you’ll encourage the donors who gave in your last fundraiser to give again
  • Event engagement: Any campaign that centers around an event should have goals pertaining to attendance, ticket sales, or other relevant metrics. If you’re hosting an auction, for example, you might set goals for the number of attendees, donors, and sponsors you hope to gain.

As you choose these focus areas, also consider any challenges you may face in reaching these goals and make a plan to address them. 

5. Use the SMART framework

Once you’ve defined your focus areas, it’s time to set attainable yet reasonable goals for each area that will push your team to succeed. To put yourself in the best position to succeed, use the SMART framework for goal setting:

The SMART goal-setting framework elements, which are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound.

  • Specific: Don’t leave any room for uncertainty. Instead of setting a range, like gaining 20-40 donors, choose a single number for each goal. 
  • Measurable: Every goal you set should be measured by a clear metric. If you have a more abstract goal like increasing donor engagement, define engagement by event attendance numbers or the percentage of recipients who fill out a survey. 
  • Actionable: Make sure you have the resources to take action on each goal. For instance, you should have plenty of digital marketing resources if your goal is to increase online fundraising. 
  • Realistic: Grounding your goals in past campaign performance will help you ensure they aren’t overly ambitious.
  • Time-bound: Deadlines for your goals keep you on track to complete them. Be sure to set checkpoints throughout your campaign as well to monitor progress on each goal.

Goals provide your team with structure and a solid foundation, but this doesn’t mean they’re unchangeable. If you need to update your goals at any point based on strategy updates or unforeseen circumstances, come back to this framework to make effective changes. 

As you dive deeper into the campaign planning process, these goals will be instrumental in guiding your decision-making. Revisit them each time you make your next decision, from crafting a campaign budget to developing your marketing materials.

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