The SMART Method to Develop Fundraising Goals

If you want to meet your fundraising goals, you have to be smart about how you develop them, literally.

The SMART method is a popular goal-setting system developed by management scholar, George Duran, back in 1980 and used by many organizations as a model. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based. What does all this mean? Let’s take a look at each part of SMART.

The SMART Method


Indicating that you want or “need” to raise more money than you did last year isn’t specific enough. You should focus on a specific number and try to tie that in with impact. So what amount do you need in order to have the potential impact you are seeking? Not all campaigns are about money. For example, maybe your goal is more about awareness. In this case, perhaps your goal will be gaining 20 more volunteers.


This goes hand-in-hand with making your goals specific. If you can set measurable goals, you can determine if you have succeeded. To make your objectives measurable, consider questions such as, “how much?” and “how many?”


While it is important to challenge yourself and your organization, setting goals that are too lofty can backfire. It can make people on your team feel as if they have let everyone down. Just remember to make it challenging but possible.


Nonprofits always explain to donors what impact their gift will have but fundraisers also need to be reminded about the work their goals support. Your fundraising goal should, therefore, relate to your overall mission. A powerful statement about impact along with images can demonstrate what a donation really means.


No matter how big or small a goal is, it needs to have a target date. Each task should have a deadline so that nothing is missed. Time-bound goals address questions such as, what can I do today? What can I achieve in the next few weeks or months? Often, this gives people a sense of whether or not more resources are required or if they need any type of training to work towards the goal.

5–Point Approach for Ensured Success

The SMART Method, while effective, doesn’t always ensure success for nonprofit organizations alone. Those that do seem to hit their goals repeatedly, however, tend to take a five-point approach once they have gone through the SMART process.

1. Set deadlines

They set specific deadlines for every task related to their goal and assign specific people responsibility for each task. They also track progress.

2. Focus on individual donors

Research shows that 70 percent of money raised comes from individuals. Those who are successful at reaching their goal often focus on individual donors as opposed to foundation grants or government support.

3. Tracking donors

They use a donor funnel that allows them to lead prospects through a clear set of steps. These organizations know when and where to ask for support.

4. Fundraising networks

Successful fundraising organizations build fundraising networks, which allow them to develop relationships with donors through personal contact. This eventually allows them to ask for referrals to those donors’ contacts.

5. Great storytelling

Telling a story that creates a vivid vision and invites donors to be part of the life-altering team can be really impactful. As humans, we like to get caught up in adventures that are bigger than ourselves and contributing to an organization for a common goal can sound exciting when you tell your story well.

To help keep all of this in perspective, just think about the famous saying coined by French writer, Antoine de Saint Exupéry – “Without a plan, a goal is just a wish.”

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