By Will DeKrey
At Community Wealth Partners we set out to answer one powerful question: Why do some social change initiatives achieve transformational results while others only make incremental progress? Based on our direct work with clients nationwide and from in-depth research on efforts ranging from the anti-malaria and anti-tobacco movements to the designated driver campaign and the reduction in crime in New York City in the ’90s, we have identified common themes across efforts that have achieved significant, sustained impact at the population-level.
As we examined how such transformational efforts define success, we found leaders and teams approaching the question differently than many of their peers in the nonprofit sector. These organizations push beyond the compelling, but often ambiguous, visions and missions that their colleagues embrace, and instead define success with bold, long-term goals. Such goals have the power to excite, motivate and align stakeholders within and outside of the effort. They also offer a clear bottom-line against which progress is measured and decisions can be prioritized.
In prior posts, we’ve discussed some of the characteristics and implications of setting such goals. In this post, I want to briefly explore one of the key questions our clients and others often pose: “When we set our goal, how bold should we really be?”
Balancing boldness and believability is something around which many groups struggle. Each individual is guided in different directions and with various levels of intensity by her head and her heart. Bringing a group of diverse stakeholders together makes finding that right balance even harder.
A goal that is too bold may be alienating or be dismissed as outlandish. The perception of resources required to accomplish the goal may outweigh what stakeholders would realistically contribute, and ultimately result in a level of engagement lower than that necessary to achieve the goal. A goal that is too believable will not inspire or energize internal and external stakeholders, similarly resulting in a level of engagement lower than that necessary to achieve the goal.
Strong, bold, long-term goals push an organization to hold itself accountable to results beyond those it produces directly. Such a goal necessitates progress beyond the direct programs and services of the organization. In finding the appropriate level of boldness to pack into their goal, groups should consider their spheres of influence:
- What outcomes are you directly responsible for?
- What outcomes do you influence through partnerships, advocacy or thought leadership?
- What outcomes do you influence through the ripple effects of your own programs?
Concerned & Consulted:
- What outcomes, though achieved by others, are you generally concerned and consulted about?
We push our partners to reach beyond the sphere of “responsible” when setting their bold goals. This means holding yourself accountable to results that you do not control directly. It implies that you will only be successful through pursuing strategies that embrace collaboration and influence. It will make you uncomfortable and uncertain about your ability to succeed, but it will be grounded in a realistic assessment of how far your direct and indirect outcomes can truly reach.
Finding the appropriate balance between boldness and believability requires an exploration of the organization or collaborative’s business model, strategy and broader role within the community of other organizations with whom its work overlaps.
Some groups resist setting a goal at this level because they fear the goal itself will not be immediately believable to others. It’s important to acknowledge that a goal’s believability often is not inherent in the goal itself but instead arises from a data-informed, logical strategy that provides the high-level plan and theory illustrating how the organization or collaborative’s actions will realize its long-term goal. Though the goal should push you to aim high, you must paint a compelling and believable picture of how your current and/or proposed strategies will achieve this goal.
P.S. We’re busy working on a more in-depth guide that offers additional examples and tools related to setting a bold, long-term goal. Stay tuned.