SMART Fundraising Goal Setting: Plan To Succeed

Tina Jepson
Tina Jepson

When you’re setting a goal for your next fundraising campaign, it might as well be SMART. At least, that’s what George T. Doran taught us all in 1981. Since then, variations of the SMART goal have made their way into schools, businesses, and nonprofits alike.

So, what does SMART stand for?

SMART is an acronym for the 5 key features that experts believe must be integrated into your goal in order to set yourself up for success:


Let’s take a look at the specifics of each objective as they relate to fundraising.

SMART Fundraising

SMART Fundraising Objective #1- SPECIFIC

When setting a goal, you must first determine what you see as your ultimate result. Being specific in the context of fundraising means being clear about your financial goal and what meeting that goal will do for your organization.

To pinpoint your specific fundraising goal, ask yourself:

  • What do I ultimately want to accomplish?
  • What needs to happen in order to reach the goal?
  • Who will benefit once the goal is met?

Here are some simple yet specific goals.

  • Raise $1,000 to house 100 of the city’s homeless for 1 night
  • Raise $10,000 to support a new cancer research project
  • Raise $40,000 to send 1000 underprivileged kids to camp

In fundraising, being specific in goal-setting is a twofold process. First, you’ll need to determine how much you must raise/how many donors/etc. during the campaign. Then, you must further clarify your goal as described in the next factor, measurability.

SMART Fundraising Objective #2- MEASURABLE

How will you know if you’ve met your fundraising goal? You will need to be able to measure your success, which is especially easy when talking about monetary donations, numbers of donors, and percentages of returning donations. To determine whether your goal can be measured, outline:

  • How much you need to raise
  • Who will be tracking the progress toward the goal
  • How you’ll know when you reach your goal

Tracking is necessary for both the fundraiser and the donor, as it gives a clear picture as to where you are in the process. Not only is measuring your goal a great motivator for everyone, but it can also help to boost team morale!

SMART Fundraising Objective #3- ATTAINABLE

Setting a realistic and attainable goal is one of the most difficult aspects of fundraising. If you are part of a nonprofit or other service organization, chances are you are all too familiar with limited budgets that impact the scope of your work.

I’m sure you would love to raise $500,000- but is that feasible for you? If you are a nonprofit with a small operating budget, then it is best to start with a goal that stretches you but isn’t outrageous.

Here are some things to ask yourself when setting an attainable goal:

  • What have we raised in past events or online campaigns?
  • What is our average size donation?
  • How many people donated to our last campaign?
  • What resources does this organization have to commit to the fundraising process (hours, money)?

Stay away from lofty, unattainable goals at all costs. Nothing brings down morale faster than not meeting your goal. Try and set your team up to ‘win’.

SMART Fundraising Objective #4- RELEVANT

Relevancy is unequivocally necessary for fundraising. You’ve established how much you need to raise and how you will measure it. Now it is time to determine if the goal ‘works’ for your organization.

As explained above, your fundraising goal should directly relate to your mission.

  • What will meeting this goal do to further your mission?
  • What are the direct results in lives changed, return on investment, etc.?
  • Are you reaching your target group with this goal?
  • How do the services the donations will provide connections with the services you’re currently offering?

If you want to raise $10,000, then pinpoint exactly who is benefitting from those dollars.

SMART Fundraising Objective #5- TIME-BASED

The last factor to consider when creating your goal is timeliness. Your goal must have a firm start and end date. Not only are these dates important for your organization’s budget, but they are also necessary to motivate both your team members and donors into action. Shorter campaigns, especially those under 30 days, can actually make it easier on you as a fundraiser. That is because short timelines give donors a sense of urgency.

Your goal should explicitly state:

  • Your start date
  • Your end date
  • Steps that can be taken at the present time
  • An outline of where you should be at important points in your campaign

Having a timeline can keep the team on track for success. If you’re close to the end of the campaign and the donations aren’t coming in, you’ll know to step up your game.

SMART Fundraising Goal Example: Liquidnet- Bikes For Kids

Take a look at this great example of a SMART fundraising goal from Liquidnet’s Bikes for Kids campaign. Liquidnet employees and friends began this campaign during the holiday season to purchase bikes and helmets for children served by the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation, an organization that works to help children living in poverty in Vietnam and Mongolia.

Per their fundraising website:

We hope to raise at least enough money to purchase bikes and helmets for 40 children to help them stay in school. (Each bike kit is US$120.)

Liquidnet Bikes for Kids

Between their website and story, Liquidnet incorporated all aspects of a SMART goal into their campaign.

  • Specific- The goal was explicitly stated on their fundraising page. “We hope to raise enough money to purchase bikes and helmets for 40 children…”
  • Measurable- The results were measured on the donation meter on their main fundraising web page. Causevox’s impact meter also tracked the number of bicycle kits under the total raised.
  • Attainable- Liquidnet looked to employees and their networks to reach this goal. They factored in their employee contributions as well as the company match.
  • Relevant- “…purchase bikes and helmets for 40 children to help them stay in school.”
  • Time-Based- The campaign lasted throughout the holiday season. The end date was clearly stated on the campaign fundraising web page.

Final Tips For Incorporating SMART Fundraising Goals Into Your Next Campaign

Hopefully, by now you have a solid idea of how to put together a SMART goal for your next fundraising campaign.

Remember that SMART goals are important for everyone involved in the fundraising effort. For a fundraiser, it is easy to be motivated by a specific goal that is tracked over time, difficult but not impossible to reach, necessary for your organization to function, and has a clear timeline. On the same token, donors are much more likely to give when they are initially asked if they know the time-sensitivity of the ultimate goal.

The best advice is to start where you are at. SMART goals don’t need to be created in any order. If you know what your organization needs to operate, then start there. Or, begin with your timeline. It doesn’t matter, as long as you ultimately come up with a structured final product.

Good luck!

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