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Get SMART on Goal-Based Fundraising

Whether you’re looking to launch a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, maximize end-of-year giving, or run a Giving Tuesday campaign to remember, you must define what success looks like.

Establishing a fundraising goal helps focus any campaign on getting results. When working towards a common objective, it becomes easier to track your progress, improve outreach, and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Depending on what type of fundraising campaign your nonprofit is preparing for, your specific goals will vary.

First and foremost, make sure your fundraising goal is SMART. Defined by George T. Doran in 1981, S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measured, Attainable (actionable works as well), Relevant, and Time-bound. Let’s unpack what this acronym means in terms of your nonprofit fundraising.

S is for Specific

Setting specific goals helps to frame the scope of your campaign and outline what you will need in order to meet those goals. Simply wishing to raise more money than the previous year is not enough, as you can accomplish this unspecific goal by raising just one more dollar. Consider how you can define your fundraising goal in terms of programmatic impact. This keeps the focus on getting results!

Start by asking some fundamental questions with your team:

  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • What needs to happen in order for us to reach our goal?
  • Who will benefit once the goal is met?

These concrete details are so important in the beginning stages, as making a specific goal will help make it measurable, which in turn affects how attainable your goal is.

Examples of specific fundraising goals:

  • We need 250 new donors, both small (roughly $5-20) and mid-level (roughly $50-$200).
  • We have a programmatic need to raise $200,000 to improve operation.
  • We want to provide financial aid to 500 more students than last year.

M is for Measurable

Outlining your fundraising goals in a measurable way means your nonprofit will be able to track progress and act accordingly. Making your goals measurable is as simple as quantifying how much you want to raise or how many you want to help. With measurable goals, you are also able to track success and failure: either you reach your goal or you don’t. This then affects how Attainable your goal is and how Relevant it is to your organization…you see where this is going.

If you ran a similar campaign in the past, compare your fundraising efforts from the previous year and see how it holds up. This is a great space to track progress (only 50 more new donors to go!) and improve outreach (email open rates are low, let’s try a Facebook fundraising push with a paid, targeted effort).

Here is a great example from The National Alopecia Areata Foundation‘s #ClaimYourStrength campaign, where the progress bar is prominent and their goal is a measurable $125,000. Awesome to see over $142,000 raised! Way to crush it, fundraisers. 

fundraising campaign example causemic

A is for Actionable

A has also been defined as Attainable or Ambitious, and all three definitions work together. Aim high, but be careful not to overshoot the moon! Don’t just double your goal willy nilly, even if your organization could use it. Work with your team to determine a goal that will stretch your limits while keeping your scope in mind. A goal that you can put to work as soon as you’ve reached it.

Again, consider what you’re hoping to accomplish with your campaign, and what your team has to do in order to make it happen.

R is for Relevant

Your campaign should be relevant to your organization and its supporters. Take some time here to outline your campaign and determine the “why.”

  • Why is this fundraising campaign important and who is it going to impact?
  • Why is it important to your organization overall?
  • Given your available resources, what results are you hoping to bring supporters?

T is for Time-Bound

In order to reach a fundraising goal, there needs to be a clear end date (and start date for that matter) for your campaign to determine when you hope to reach your goal by. It’s impossible to define a fundraising goal for an evergreen campaign (one that is ongoing) if there’s no end in sight.

An end date for your campaign also provides a sense of urgency and motivates donors and sign-ups as the end is near.

Ready, Set, Fundraise

You’ve worked with your team to get your campaign up to snuff so it’s time to press go. Tailor these recommendations to your exact needs and you’re ready to launch your campaign! 


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