2 min Read
December 22, 2016

A Guide to Writing S.M.A.R.T Objectives

The New Year: a time for making (and sometimes quickly breaking) resolutions, trying new things, and looking ahead to what 2017 might have in store. We see a lot of organizations use the early months of a new year to set annual objectives in support of their strategic plan—it’s the perfect time to think through what you’d like to achieve in the coming year.

If your organization is about to embark on this—and if some of those objectives are related to communications—stop and think before you do. The Ducks have seen a lot of strategic and operational plans in our day. We’ve seen some that incorporate communications well, and others that miss the mark.

A crucial question to ask as you brainstorm communications (and other) objectives is: are they S.M.A.R.T.? Are they Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound?

Here’s a common example of a communications objective we see in strategic plans—and how we might adapt that objective to make it S.M.A.R.T:

1. Objective: Raise public awareness and strengthen name recognition of our work.

This objective forgets a few key elements of S.M.A.RT.:

    • It’s not specific: we generally discourage citing “the general public” as an audience. It’s vague, which makes nailing down a strategy for reaching them pretty tough. We’d rather push this objective to define its audience by demographics, interests, philanthropic habits, etc. 

    • It’s not measurable: How are awareness and name recognition being measured? Is there a benchmark level of awareness against which to measure progress? This objective could use some specific metrics. 

    • It’s not time-bound: there’s no urgency to this objective—it could happen this year, next year, or never. It could use some time constraints. 

2. S.M.A.R.T. Objective: Raise awareness of our work among millennials in the Northeast before the 2017 year-end season. We’ll measure success through a 10% increase (from 20% to 30%) in our level of awareness among this demographic. 

As you can see, this objective brings some specificity to the target audience and the timing, making it much easier to brainstorm how and when you might reach that audience. It also sets some benchmarks for success, which will help come year-end season, when it’s time to decide if the objective has been met.

If you’re not sure how to set specific metrics, check out Big Duck’s Brandraising Benchmark, a market research tool that measures your level of awareness, likelihood of support, and more among specific audiences.

The new year can feel daunting, but really, it’s full of possibilities for your nonprofit’s communications. So get your planning hats on, just remember to be S.M.A.R.T about it!