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Solving Nonprofit Goal Achievement Failure

AUTHORS  |  Kathy Wisniewski & Ben Bisbee 


Another year has come to a close and a new year has begun.

As we’ve said goodbye to January and are now a full week into February, we know the world is still taking time to reflect back on the things that have taken place over the prior year, while continuing to looking ahead to the things yet to come. And while many of us have already reluctantly given up, some of us are still in the midst of chasing those elusive New Year’s resolutions, still focused, still enthusiastic - looking at ourselves as a kind of "blank canvas" of limitless opportunity for what lies ahead.

But wait?  Is the new year really the start of a mistake-free blank canvas? Do we have the luxury of starting all over from scratch?  Are we these new vessels, just looking to add new goals to make us whole for the new year? No. Not at all.

This is the absolute truth when it comes to nonprofits. Already an extremely driven model by intent, nonprofits have a mission, a cause, a true purpose -- a problem they are trying to resolve on a day to day basis. So of course they change and challenge themselves with new goals frequently. But for all the good that nonprofits put out into the world, they have equal challenges as well - challenges that don’t just disappear when that brand new calendar goes up on the wall. Challenges that contain layers of situations, struggles or misgivings that may have never been identified in the first place--let alone planned for or resolved.

And then, two weeks, two months, ten months later with their goals in hand, nonprofits--like anyone else--are often left wondering why something that seemed so ideal or certain was so difficult or impossible to achieve. It's easy to begin wondering if you’re even capable of tackling or setting new goals - and if it's even worth it in the first place.

Perhaps resolutions or goals are not the problem. 31st Century Nonprofits believes that we’re far too focused on the goal, and rarely instead on the transitions or insights necessary to achieve and evaluate the goal.  

Say you are taking a vacation. You know where you are going and where you are coming from. Everything in-between are your transitions and evaluations. Part of planning your vacation is about understanding all of the directions possible: highways, railways or airways, stops and layovers, weather conditions, even the type and quality of your transport along the way are all factored into your trip. And while this truth never surprises us for things like planning vacations, the same concept does often elude us when it comes to setting goals.

We believe a transition and evaluation plan is exactly what is needed in order to help insure future goal achievement. And so the 31st Century Nonprofits team is excited to introduce a tool we hope will solve for goal achievement failure. A tool we’re calling a Core Measurement Transition Plan (CMTP).

Problem & Background

To begin to unpack the idea of why we think a new model for transition is necessary, here are a few quick statistics:

  • According to U.S. News, approximately 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February.
  • The University of Scranton published their findings that 92% of people that set New Year’s goals never actually achieve them in the first place.
  • And research from Concord Leadership Group shows a huge gap between top-performing nonprofit organizations and all others. Almost half of the more than 1,000 organizations polled reported their organization either does not have a strategic plan, or that if there is one, is not written down.

What are we seeing in these statistics? Setting goals is not the problem--achieving them, however is quite often. And while it would be easy to suggest the problem is that goals are just simply "not achieved". We feel the real issue lives quietly in realizing we don’t often take stock of where we are coming from, what our goals require of us, and how to therefore create eventual outcomes.

Solution & Systems

The best way to insure goal achievement is to implement a Core Measurement Transition Plan (CMTP) - an easy, but comprehensive tool that helps you not only address your future intended destination, but where you are currently coming from, and all of the organizational elements that could make or break your journey.

So how do you implement a CMTP? It's honestly as easy as a 3-step process.


Even with the simplest of goals in mind, a nonprofit needs to remember they don't begin a goal achievement process as a "blank slate". Because no matter the nature of the goals you have set for yourself, there is a current state of prior achievement in place - examples of what you’ve done before related to your goals, even if the only example is that you’ve never done it before. Realizing who you are today or what you’ve achieved thus far, as related to your goals, is one of the most crucial steps necessary to achieve any goal. While often sobering, it’s also the necessary step to seeing the landscape ahead.

We refer to this process as identifying your present state or what we call a Current State of Achievement (CSA) against your future destination or what we call an Intended State of Achievement (ISA) or goal.

Much like you need to enter your current location into the GPS before it can determine how to take you to your destination, taking a good look at your Current State of Achievement is a crucial step in achieving the goals you have set for your organization.

CSA ISA example.png

HEAD SCRATCHER: Why new terms?

First and foremost, 31st Century Nonprofits believes that there is a fundamental lack of an effective lexicon within the nonprofit industry. Therefore, you should be kindly warned that we are heavily invested in introducing terms and definitions to help support the growth of new language, and our collective needs. In short: we are progressive word nerds with a purpose.

But why CSA and ISA? Why not call them goals? Because we believe “goal” isn’t cutting it--it’s often a term in a vacuum, it’s either achieved or not. Having a goal does nothing to showcase your current state of existence; while a goal addresses the future, there is no complimentary term to address the present. You can have a goal to run a marathon in a month but have never even jogged around your block. Identifying your CSA against your ISA is real and it’s honest. And we believe an essential element of “goal achievement”.


Once you have your CSA and ISA identified, it’s now time to dig several layers deeper to identify the existing contextual organizational resources or lack-of-resources that will help or hinder your goal achievement.

The truth of the matter is that goals are not achieved simply based on their existence. Like everything at your nonprofit, they are critically influenced by a dynamic set of core elements that are often overlooked or underappreciated, but can be identified, changed, enhanced and measured.  No matter the shape or size of any nonprofit, the success of growth and development is reliant on these influential factors that can make or break any plan.

Specifically identified with nonprofits in mind, 31st Century Nonprofits calls these influential factors Core Measurements – things at the center of everything within your organization, even if you can’t see them. And within each Core Measurement is a set of contents that more strongly articulate the details and sub-elements

Core Measurements chart.png

Detailing and Scoring Core Measurements

As you look at each Core Measurements and its contents, you’ll want to do two things:

  1. Express details of your organization's relationship with each Core Measurement - literally write a few sentences of truth or reflection. Do you have enough staff? Are you a transparent organization? Do you have a communications plan? Do you have research on your project?
  2. After sharing a few details, it's now time to score your Core Measurement. We recommend something as simple as the identification of Positive (+), Negative (-), or Neutral (0) score model, but you could also create a 10-point scale or something more in-depth. However, the bigger idea here is to help you determine if each Core Measurement works for, against, or neutrally in favor of your ISA or goal.

As you fill in the boxes, you will be able to easily see where your gaps are and identify how those Core Measurements need to be addressed and/or managed. It’s at this stage that you can now identify challenges and transitions needed.

Challenges are just that: an account of the key issues you’re tracking that might prohibit you from intended goal achievement. Whereas transitions are the tasks, objectives, roles and/or tactics that you now see as necessary to insure goal achievement.

With a CMTP, you will be able to easily keep track of what will be necessary to make any goal a reality - challenges or no challenges.



Once your CMTP is complete, you will want to prioritize your goals, taking into serious consideration the resources that are required to move forward.  

For example, if you do not have the human capital to complete a goal, nor the capital to hire, it may be a goal that you have to eliminate or put on hold - no matter how great or important the idea truly is.  It is so much more efficient to do it this way than to jump head first into trying to execute a new goal only to hit a brick wall because your Core Measurements are prohibiting you from success.

Another important thing to keep in mind once you reach this stage in the process is to look at all of your goals from a bird’s eye view.  In other words, you need to look at each goal individually. It would be easy to assume you have everything needed to move an individual goal forward, but if you look at all of your goals as a whole, you might come to realize that you’ve identified the same person for 5 different goals, and that one person simply does not have the bandwidth to take on all five of those projects successfully.


Creating a CMTP should not be a one-person job. Even if your nonprofit is small with only one staff member, consider how completing a CMTP is a great way to get your board and volunteers involved to:

  • Work together to brainstorm how each Core Measurement is identified and acknowledged.
  • Ensure everyone is on the same page and understands the direction of the organization.
  • Provide consistency in workflow and communications.
  • Identify the priority rating of each goal, and think of the brand new things that you would like to accomplish:  
    • If you have a very large organization that would make it impossible to include every staff person in every meeting, be creative and think of other ways to allow everyone to have input.  
    • Create a survey and send it around and perhaps offer a small prize to everyone who responds. Ask for specific thoughts, ideas, and suggestions from your front line managers - the ones who know what is going on in the trenches and how to improve it.  
    • Consider a staff/volunteer retreat with fun activities to get to the heart of what the organization as a whole would be interested in pursuing and the elements necessary for that goal to be viable.


As with the case of using any new tool or process, an important question to always ask is “How should we best evaluate our use of this?”  When it comes to using a CMTP, your best evaluative outcome should be having a better understanding of your goals and their attainability.

However, it's worth noting that using a CMTP can sometimes feel like a veritable rabbit hole. Often when you discover that one of your Core Measurements is presenting as “negative” you’ll realize that you can use a new CMTP to evaluate how to best chart a course to work toward creating change. In this way, the utilization of a CMTP process can create a system of goal setting and evaluations that can help to change a variety of organizational needs and norms.

Attempting to evaluate the impact of a CMTP is very much about both its use and in being honest and transparent about it’s intent. This is why we recommend you consider this tool best when done in a group setting - it allows for natural transparency, honesty, and hopefully integrity.

Quick Summary

  1. Identify your Current State of Achievement (CSA) vs. your Intended State of Achievement (ISA)
  2. Map out and score your Core Measurements in your Core Measurement Transition Plan (CMTP)
  3. Determine the validity of your goals, which ones to pursue and which ones to put on hold
  4. Prioritize your goals and get to work!

The End is Only the Beginning

31st Century Nonprofits is committed to being more than just a “blog” or a set of ideas nonprofits can implement. Focused on providing both an outline of industry challenges and tools and concepts focused on real solutions, we aim to challenge industry norms and inspire true change.

With this in mind, we end every White Paper by asking three simple questions of you, the reader. Designed from the theory of Transformative Learning, these three questions are intended to help you to begin the process of perspective transformation and adoptive learning, allowing for three key changes in you and your nonprofit: psychological - changes in understanding of the self, convictional - revision of belief systems, and behavioral - changes in lifestyle.

  1. Why does this White Paper’s topic matter to me and/or my nonprofit?
  2. What do I or my nonprofit need to change in our belief systems or culture?
  3. How can I or my nonprofit begin implementing change?

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