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Powerful Yet Reasonable Goals

As a consultant I have the privilege of working with executives at many not-for-profits. Like executives in the for-profit world, they often want it all and they want it yesterday. Speaking of which, yesterday was a perfect example in which I spoke to a potential new client about launching a capital campaign for his very young college in Israel.

The  goal for the campaign will be between $3 million and $5 million, to be used to renovate two existing historic buildings that currently make up the campus. Can it be done? Of course it can. Can it be done this month? Of course it can’t. This year? Perhaps. Within 3 years? Absolutely.

It is important to set powerful goals that will motivate your volunteer leadership and your donors, not to mention your staff. On of my favorite stories is about my alma mater, Tufts University. Shortly after they hired world reknown nutritionist, Jean Mayer, to be President of the University in the late ’70s, he hired a consulting firm to do a feasibility study. The study showed that with current resources, Tufts could raise $80 million in a 5 year campaign. Mayer promptly announced a $200 million campaign!

The purpose of that story is not to tell you to ignore the consultants. On the contrary, in this story, the consultants were correct. The purpose is to show you the power of big goals and dreams. Although Mayer accepted the resignations of many in is development team, he successfully reached his goal (which, by the way was more than 4 times as large as any previous campaign for the University.)

But wait, didn’t I tell you the consultants were correct?

They were.

And Jean Mayer was also correct.

With its current resources at the beginnning of the campaign, Tufts raised $80 million, just as the feasibility study had shown. Mayer’s bold plans and powerful goals brought new resources, new players, and new donors to the table. He inspired his leadership and his donors and launched Tufts from a small time fundraiser into a major fundraising university. The growth that followed during the next decade was unbelieveble with new buildings, programs, and schools enriching the University.

The difference between dreams and goals is a deadline. You need to dream big, but you also need to set reasonable deadlines to make your goals both powerful and achievable. Because if they aren’t achievable, they won’t be credible. And without credility, there is no power.


  1. Jenny wrote:

    great post.

    Jenny’s last blog post..Carnival of Family Life Once Again!

    Tuesday, June 10, 2008 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  2. Interesting post.

    Never say “Of course it can’t.” I had a job interview and we got on the subject of something that I had not done before and instead of saying “Of course I can’t.” I said that I have not mastered that yet, but will do my best to deliver on it. Like you the goal was in the millions, and if I get the job I bet you I make the objective. £2.5 million or more in new business.

    I stumbled it and included it in my blog carnival.

    Keep up the good work.

    Richard McLaughlin’s last blog post..One Huge Carnival Of Leads To Making Money Online

    Saturday, September 27, 2008 at 10:36 am | Permalink
  3. Yeah Jean Mayer correct. Good news.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

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