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Setting Realistic Digital Goals: Are You Ready?

Organizations tend to make two common mistakes when setting goals for a big digital marketing project – setting only blue-sky goals that are unreachable or forgetting to set goals at all. Somewhere in between is where you want to be. Here are my suggestions for how to establish realistic and reachable goals before you launch your new campaign or go live with your new marketing tool.

1. Start with what you know.

Set baselines for yourself and understand where you are today before you begin your campaign or project. If possible, create a spreadsheet for the previous six to 12 months. You should know where you are starting in order to better grasp where you could be. For example, if you’re already doubling your email signups every six months, you need to know that before you launch a new sign-up campaign. Otherwise, you won’t know your actual growth and what you can attribute to the extra effort you’re putting in with the new tactics.

2. Maintain your focus.

Set three to five key metrics that will help you determine if you reach your goal. This will help you avoid data paralysis. Maybe you want to double the number of email sign-ups, raise more money, or increase web traffic. These metrics are going to help you determine the success of your project. There may be other things you measure but try not to think of twenty things you want to accomplish. Use your baselines and past data to establish the future you want to see and then track your progress on a weekly or monthly basis.

3. Adjust as necessary.

Determine specific milestones where you’re going to actually check in on the project and when you would be comfortable tweaking your approach. You want to let a project run its course, but you also want to adjust. For example, say you launched a new form with a goal of pushing donors toward a monthly sustainer program. If you let it run for three months and that program hasn’t grown, ask yourself what additional strategies you can use. Maybe you need to think more about advertising or email marketing. Setting some key timeframes when you will objectively look at the data and adjust tactics is important as you march toward your objective.

4. Use the data.

Look at benchmark reports. Check the annual M+R report for benchmarks associated with nonprofits of your type and size. And see if the tools you use produce annual growth statistics as well. Benchmarks should not be the determining factor for success because every organization is different, but they can guide you toward setting goals that are not completely arbitrary. Let’s say the average newsletter open rate is 16 percent across nonprofits. If you’re at currently 6 percent you don’t want to set your goal at 20 percent right away. You’re more likely to see incremental growth, and the benchmark can help you understand that, so you can set goals you can actually reach.

5. Know your surroundings.

Any digital project or campaign is a living breathing thing, not a ‘set it and forget it’ situation, so you need to pay attention to what other forces could impact your goals. Understanding staff capacity is critical to goal-setting. You may want to go bigger than ever, but can your staff can actually handle a campaign of that size? Also ask yourself if you are touching a topic that’s in the news. If so, what might be successful one month might not be successful six months from now. Recently, organizations about immigration might have seen a big lift, but once the supreme court nomination came in, the focus may have shifted to those organizations that work on reproductive rights. You don’t exist in a vacuum, so your goals can also be affected by things you have no control over.

However you decide to set your goals for your next digital project, it’s also important to remember that not reaching them is not a failure. You’ve learned lessons in the process about what resonates with your supporters and this will help you grow and get better with each campaign or project.

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