We are going down… We have no target!

Welcome aboard ladies and gentlemen… This is your captain speaking… Welcome aboard this flight to somewhere between here and where you actually want to get to. Flight time tonight could be anything from 1 hour to six hours depending on how well we do.

We will be flying at an altitude that we hope will be slightly higher than last year but not as high as we flew 4 years ago when flying was easier. We cannot at this stage commit to a specific altitude. Obviously we hope we will go reasonably high.
We are hoping for a smooth flight but if there’s any turbulence we’ll conclude air flight is unrealistic in this current climate and land immediately. 

Now, sit back and enjoy this flight!

This was the great opening from Toby Bourke at a recent meeting in his session Setting Targets. With the fabulous subtitle: “It doesn’t mean you are a bad person.”

Target setting is essential to improve your fundraising results. Toby: “A target is an essential unit of measurement in the assessment of ambition and performance.” A key underlying question is: are we capable to challenge ourselves enough? In general, I think not.

In a survey I did among 103 fundraisers I asked about targets in fundraising. But how do you use a target in your fundraising?

Normally you would set (or get) your target. You make your plan to reach the targets. You execute your plans. You measure your results and track progress against your target (and last year’s result to date) on a monthly base. You take action if projections show you are under-performing. In the end you evaluate why you have reached your target or not. And again, you take action to improve the conditions to reach your next target.

So, a couple of months ago I survey monkey-ed 103 fundraisers from around the world…

  • 29% of the respondents decide on their own targets. That sounds too easy. Some of you are capable of challenging yourself, but face it, the majority simply isn’t.
  • 53% proposes a target to their line manager who decides on the final target. This looks like a much better approach, but only if your boss actually challenges your target. If her/his approval is a formality, than you’re basically still deciding on your own target.
  • Only 14% receives a target from their boss. To me, this sounds like a better approach. First of all because you would expect your boss to know why more income is needed. In the end target setting needs to be related to the operational needs of the organization, right? Secondly, because targets from your boss are normally higher than you would set your own target. By having a healthy discussion and challenge some of the conclusions of previous plans, targets can easily increase.
  • And yes, 4% of the fundraisers out there don’t work with a target… Ouch!

I asked the participants of my poll to give their opinion on 3 statements and I got some inconclusive answers. So please help me out in the comments below this post if you understand what is going on.

(1) Target setting increases fundraising results.

Seems that’s 90% (strongly) agrees, which makes me happy. The other 10% might not understand English.


(2) Imposed target setting results in more ambitious targets than your own target setting.

The majority of my respondents don’t agree. I think that imposed target setting, by your manager, in the end yields higher results, because normally those targets are higher than you would normally set them yourself. Perhaps the 50% who don’t agree received a lower target from their boss… Perhaps people have different experience… I’d be happy to hear them in the comments below!


(3) Without fundraising targets we have nothing to monitor throughout the year.

The answers are pretty equally divided for this one. But also here I wonder what goes on in the minds of the fundraisers who don’t agree… How do you decide whether you’re on track? Sure, you compare your results to last year (please!), but that’s it?! Without a juicy orange carrot, I don’t believe you’re moving forward fast enough…

Does it have anything to do with being afraid of accountability?


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