SMART Fundraising Goals

At the heart of every successful fundraising campaign are clearly defined fundraising goals. Goals serve as a strategic roadmap and it isn’t something you pull out of thin air. It takes time, planning, research, and intention.

When you’re setting a goal for your next fundraising campaign, it might as well be SMART. At least, that’s what management scholar George T. Doran taught us all in 1981. The SMART framework is intended to help you fully flesh out your ideas, focus your efforts, and use your time and resources wisely. Since the inception of the SMART framework, 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 Goals

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 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 timelines. 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 $120 USD).

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.

Best Practices For Achieving Your Fundraising Goals

Break Down Your Fundraising Goals

You wouldn’t try to boil the ocean so why tackle one large goal all at once? If your goal seems insurmountable, break it down into micro-goals to make it more approachable and less overwhelming. When your goals are more precise and specific, it’ll help you stay motivated and better prioritize your next steps.

Stay Accountable

Accountability is a major key to fundraising success. Have a system to hold your feet to the fire. It can be as simple as having regularly scheduled check-ins with your manager or team. If you’re a fundraising team of one, create a realistic schedule you can commit to. You can also adopt project management tools to track your progress along the way.

Consider Using Fundraising Thermometers

Fundraising thermometers are a form of social proof. It’s a visual display of your progress. If you’re launching a campaign, consider adding in a fundraising thermometer so your donors know how much you’ve raised thus far and how much you have left to go. Of course, fundraising thermometers are effective if they’re regularly updated to reflect the amount raised. 

Before implementing a fundraising thermometer, consider the ease of use.

Physical fundraising thermometers are DIY, fun, and extremely customizable. You can make them as eye-catching as you please but they do come with drawbacks. Physical thermometers have limited visibility due to being in a central location and they’ll need to be manually updated. 

On the other hand, virtual fundraising thermometers can generally be embedded anywhere and automatically update, leaving little room for error. When you host your fundraising campaign on CauseVox, our fundraising thermometer reflects donations in real-time as they roll in. 

Celebrate Successes

With so much to do and so little time, it’s easy to gloss over the small wins. Recognizing your team’s hard work plays a huge role in increasing motivation and boosting morale because it shows just how much you value them. If you’re flying solo, don’t forget to pause and give kudos to yourself! Whether you’ve just closed out a campaign, received a substantial gift, or reached a particular milestone, these are all reasons to celebrate. 

Ask Your Donors For Input

Donor feedback is an important part of the overall donor stewardship process. After all, fundraising is all about sustaining genuine relationships. The feedback you get from a donor can help inform who your donors are, allowing you to tailor your messaging to that specific donor subset. 

There’s a number of ways to get feedback from current donors. While it’s realistic to reserve  in-person meetings or phone calls for major donors due to time constraints, consider gathering feedback en masse through a donor survey. Better yet, customize your surveys by donor segment and send them out each segment.

When you ask the right questions, you gain valuable qualitative insight on who they are, why they choose to give, and more. Here’s some questions you may want to ask your donors:

  • Why do you choose to give to our organization?
  • What specific programs and initiatives do you care about most?
  • How do you prefer to give (i.e. forms of payment)?
  • How often would you like to hear from us and what’s the best way to reach you?
  • How would you rate your giving experience? Is there anything we can do to improve?
  • Is there anything else you’d like us to know that could better enhance our efforts?

The responses from your donors are valuable. Be sure you have a plan to act on this feedback. Don’t let it disappear into the ether. When you get to really know your donors – their likes and dislikes – you’ll be able to create a truly meaningful donor journey. 

Be Open and Transparent

Keeping your donor updated on your fundraising progress is important, whether you’re on track to reach your goal or facing some unanticipated hiccups. Being open and transparent goes a long way. It allows them to understand what’s going on and step up their efforts as needed. 

Whether you opt to send regular email blasts or post on social media, create a scheduled system to let your donors know what’s going on throughout your campaign. By being open and transparent, it demonstrates that you’re invested in the success of the campaign and that you care about your donors.

Keep Your Resources in Mind

Consider your overall bandwidth and resources in the grand scheme of things. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big but if your goals are grand and your resources (tools, staff time, etc.) are limited, start small and work your way up. It’s not all or nothing.

Make The Donation Process Easy and Smooth

In this day and age, there’s no excuse for not having a frictionless donation process. At the most basic level, this means branding and mobile-optimizing your donation page. Depending on your donor’s giving preferences, enable flexible payment options such as PayPal, ACH, or digital wallets. In addition, don’t forget to add in recurring giving and pledges to drive more revenue. Make sure to test your donation page before it goes live. If your donation process is cumbersome or difficult, chances are, people will be discouraged from donating entirely.

Use Social Media

Leverage social platforms in your fundraising campaigns. In addition to promoting on your org’s social platforms, encourage your followers to share to their networks too. With new features constantly being rolled out across different platforms, get creative with video storytelling, hashtags, and custom infographics. 

Example Fundraising Goals (And How To Measure Them)

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” – Peter Drucker

When it comes to fundraising, this maxim rings particularly true. Quantifying progress is essential to fine-tuning your fundraising strategy moving forward. After all, how will you know that you’ve made progress or hit your target outcomes if you’re not tracking it?

If this is your first foray into goal setting, we have some sample goals to start you off and metrics to measure them. 

Raise Brand Awareness

Raising brand awareness is a common marketing goal but it’s rather broad. Determining what your brand awareness objective is should be your first step. Depending on the nonprofit, this will vary. Some might want to expand their reach to a new audience, while others might want to increase their social media following or website traffic. When tracking brand awareness, here’s a few metrics you can center your SMART fundraising goals around:

  • Website traffic
  • Video views
  • Blog views
  • Social media engagement

Acquire New Recurring Donors

When it comes to acquiring new recurring donors, your goal could be increasing the number of recurring donors by a certain percentage (i.e. “increase the number of recurring donors by X% by year-end”) or it could be converting a percentage of your one-time donors to recurring donors (i.e. “convert X% of one-time donors to recurring donors by year-end”). To track your progress, you’ll need to know how many recurring donors you currently have and go from there. For example, if you currently have 100 recurring donors and you want to see a 10% increase, you’ll need to gain 10 more by the end of the calendar year. 

Increase Average Monthly Gift Size

Another way to grow your fundraising is by increasing the monthly average gift size of recurring donors. Your goal can be to increase the average gift even if it’s just by a few dollars. For example, if the average recurring gift amount is $10, you could strive to hit $15. 

Reach out to your existing recurring donors to thank them for their continued support and ask if they would consider increasing their monthly donation. Explain how even adding just one extra dollar to their gift can help advance your mission and the programs that they’re passionate about.

Increase Average One-Time Gift Size

Alternatively, your goal might be to increase the average gift size of a one-time donor. A simple and subtle way to do this is to upgrade the suggested giving tiers on your donation form and see if there’s an increase by a set time period. 

Be mindful of the giving capacity of each donor segment (small-dollar donors, mid-level donors, and major donors). It wouldn’t be reasonable to ask a small-dollar donor for $1000 and it wouldn’t make sense to ask a major donor for $25. On CauseVox, you can tailor your giving levels using custom donation forms for what’s appropriate to each group based on their giving range. 

Increase the Number of Gifts Through Different Channels

Perhaps instead of focusing on increasing gift size, you might want to acquire a certain number of gifts that come in through various channels (email solicitations, website, social media, etc.). To start, establish a baseline by assessing the average number of gifts that come in through each channel. Once you have determined your initial figures, narrow down the channels you want to focus on. Then, create a custom donation form for each channel to capture the number of gifts that come in. 

How To Track Your Fundraising Goals

Tracking your fundraising goals is essential to knowing whether you’re successful or you’ve missed the mark. It’s data that helps inform your fundraising strategy moving forward. 

As mentioned above, fundraising thermometers are a go-to for tracking your overall campaign progress. It’s a visually appealing way to keep your supporters in tune with how much you’ve raised. 

That said, if your team is seeking deeper insights, consider a CRM. CauseVox’s all-in-one CRM is more than just a donor management tool. Our platform tracks incoming donations, YTD raised, and cumulative fundraising trends so you can fundraise more effectively without the guesswork. You can access your donor data whenever, wherever through a user-friendly interface that you and your team will love. Plus, with 1500+ options for integration, our CRM eliminates manual, time-consuming tasks. 

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 fundraising goal for your next campaign.

Remember that SMART fundraising 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, challenging 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 fundraising goals don’t need to be created in  order. If you know what your organization needs to operate, then start there (S). Or, begin with your timeline (T). It doesn’t matter, as long as you ultimately come up with a structured final product.

Good luck and goal get ‘em.

This article was first published in February 2016 and has been updated in December 2022 for freshness and accuracy.