Jan 4 / Matt McDonnell

Setting Goals and OKRs That Actually Advance Your Nonprofit

by matt mcdonell

Whether for-profit or nonprofit, flexibility is the hallmark of any successful organization. It is the willingness to change what you believe in the face of new evidence, and adjust how something is being done without compromising on your why.


But too much flexibility can be detrimental. You don't have a yardstick to measure your progress against if you’re constantly changing course. So how does an organization walk the fine line between chaos and rigidity? By setting goals that will actually advance your nonprofit, using Objectives & Key Results (OKRs).

NotleyEDU users have access to our extensive collection of resources and templates, including an easy-to-use OKRs for Nonprofits Template that you can use in your organization! 

Looking to use OKRs in your nonprofit? Start here:

1. Read Radical Focus. 

Christina Wodtke’s book Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results breaks down everything you need to know about effective goal setting and the concept of OKRs using a detailed case study. It’s an easy read and an excellent place to start on your OKR journey. 

2. Understand that OKRs are hard.

It will require a lot of mental effort to establish your Objectives and Key Results. The first time you do it, plan to set aside a half day with your leadership team to come up with OKRs after reading Radical Focus. No one leaves until there is consensus so be selective about who you invite.

3. Objectives inspire, Key Results deliver.

Objectives are qualitative and meant to be inspirational. Key Results are how you’ll know you've accomplished your objective. Be lofty with the former and concrete with the latter. 

4. OKRs should dictate how you use your time.

You need to revisit your progress against your goals weekly and allow them to guide what you and your team spend time on. But perhaps most importantly, let your OKRs give you permission to not spend time on anything else. You shouldn’t have more than 3 Objectives per quarter, and you shouldn't be spending time on things that weren’t important enough to be one of the top 3 objectives.

5. It’s okay to fail.

Teams that are firing on all cylinders usually only achieve about 70% of their goals each quarter, otherwise you are setting goals that are too easy. Failure isn't necessarily a sign that you couldn't execute on a plan, but rather an indication that it wasn't the right plan in the first place.  

6. OKRs should be quarterly.

This may sound like a very short term view of the world, but understand that as a nonprofit, whatever problem you're trying to solve will still be there in a year. The reason OKRs are so powerful is because you run at them long enough (90 days) to make big strides, but revisit them often enough that you can adjust course. Think about how powerful it is to learn that a project could be shelved after 90 days rather than a year. Imagine what you could do with those extra 270 days, and what impact you could have!  

In Conclusion

Operating an organization without goals and OKRs is a lot like trying to do a science experiment without a hypothesis.  What's important in both science and nonprofits is that you have a goal to measure your progress against, and being wrong leads to at least as much learning as being right. The key purpose of OKRs and goals is to accelerate learning in order to solve hard problems as quickly as possible. Thirty minutes per week and a few hours of goal setting each quarter will transform what your nonprofit can accomplish. 

Ready to get started? Visit our resources page and download our FREE OKRs for Nonprofits Template.

The Learning Doesn't Stop Here!

Take a deeper dive into the Processes & Tools for Scale module to implement learnings within your own organization:

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