“We just need $100 to reach our goal!”
That’s an email subject line I received on December 21, approaching year-end. Intrigued, I read on.
The email began: “As 2021 draws to a close, I’m working hard to ensure that ‘Organization’ finishes the year strong and reaches as many of its annual goals as possible. We are still $100 short of our annual fundraising goal, though. So, I’m reaching out to ask if you would consider helping us to meet this goal.”
Note each bit of information in this introduction:
Suffice it to say, this presentation will not galvanize a groundswell of charitable giving nor reassure stakeholders that the organization is thriving at year-end.
I start here not to pick on a specific nonprofit, but to illustrate the ripple effects of good goal-setting. The end of the year is a busy time for fundraisers, and goal-setting can become an afterthought. But setting a sound goal can mean the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful campaign.
Here I want to suggest three aspects of campaign goal-setting: first, what broader organizational factors should influence the goal amount; second, what development factors should influence the goal amount; and third, how do you message the goal (in launching the campaign) and update on progress toward it (throughout and after the campaign).
Your campaign goal doesn’t exist in isolation. Much of the preparatory work for your campaign and its goal can and should be done as part of a more comprehensive strategic planning process—or, at the very least, the annual budget planning process.
The budget and specific programs—especially if they are new—should be developed in consultation with the development team and with historical giving metrics in mind. Assuming your campaign is for something new or expanded, it will create a larger budgetary need than in the past (hence the campaign). So your goal—while ambitious—needs to be realistic, which means that the development team should be involved in the goal-setting.
There’s something of a balancing act between not setting yourself up for failure on the programming side (with too small of a goal) and not setting yourself up for failure on the fundraising side (with too large of a goal).
Your campaign goals should derive from a realistic assessment of giving prospects based on historical campaign performance and your relationships with current major donors. You want to imagine their generous giving—based on inspiring donors to support this new effort—and set your goal accordingly. Remember that this campaign is an opportunity to significantly advance the mission and increase the organization’s impact—and that is why donors would step up to give to this campaign.
As you consider your goal amount, think through how many donors meeting your goal amount will require. To determine this, you will want to put together a gift table. This will help ensure that your goal is realistic, even as it may be a stretch. You can see what exactly you need to and how many donors you need to be ready.
It bears mentioning, apparently, that your goal should require more than one donor. (If you’ve set a big goal and a single donor steps up to meet it—great! Double your goal and create a matching campaign.)
This may seem obvious, but it underscores an important truth: a successful campaign is a collective effort. For some campaigns, it will make sense to set a specific number-of-donors goal (in addition to a revenue one) to ensure that your donors recognize this. Your objective is to motivate generous giving (by setting an ambitious goal) while passing the straight-face test (that is, without setting an amount so large that it feels ridiculous or even discourages donor participation).
Having set your goal, you now have to develop the messaging around it. If you have taken the planning approach I’ve outlined above, the messaging almost writes itself. Your calls-to-action are invitations to join with other members of your organization’s community to advance your mission by giving to your campaign. These CTAs are decidedly not pleas to help you keep things going or “make budget.”
As the campaign progresses, you reinforce this message: Our campaign is off to a strong start, with ### of your fellow donors giving $XXX,XXX. This already represents XY% of our goal! With your partnership, we will meet—or even exceed!—this goal, which will enable us to reach even more households in the coming year. And so on.
Finally, as you report on the campaign’s success and express your gratitude to its participants, take a final opportunity to underscore your gratitude and their success: that is, help your donors see that they are the ones who successfully reached your goal. And give special attention to how their generosity made possible a specific program or organizational growth.
You achieve two key things by doing this: first, you make clear to your donor community that they are the heroes of this story, strengthening their commitment to this effort. Second, you make clear that in supporting your organization, they are advancing a mission they care about, again strengthening their commitment to your organization.
Do this right, and you’ll not only hit your goal—but you’ll advance your mission (by hitting your goals) and strengthen your organization by growing it financially and with greater commitment from your donors.
But it all starts with setting a sound campaign goal. That’s how you can make sure you see success and that that success is exciting. And impactful.