This is the time of year when it’s typical to set our new year’s resolutions for the coming year. Popular ones are exercising more, losing weight, getting organized, learning a new skill or spending more time with the family (of course with the pandemic, we may feel we’ve done enough of that last one already!).

At work we also set our goals for 2021, and there are a variety of strategies for doing so. For example, Vanessa Chase Lockshin, a consultant specializing in non-profit storytelling, fundraising and communications, takes a different approach. Before deciding her goals for the next year, Vanessa asks herself three questions:

1. Did I make progress on my most important goals this year?
2. What helped me make that progress? (e.g. tools, people, habits, resources, etc.)
3. What hindered my progress? (e.g. tools, people, habits, resources, etc.)

The answers and reflections gives her key learnings to take into the new year. Her advice is sound, and I used her approach when reviewing and setting my goals for 2021.

That said, I find that setting the goals is the easy part; the hard part is figuring out how to accomplish them. How do I stay on track day after day so that I keep achieving them? That’s the tough stuff: having the discipline to stay the course.

It all starts with getting organized
To achieve my personal goals, I’ve discovered that I need to begin each day doing my most important work. My most important goal is to help Catholic organizations, dioceses, charities and foundations connect with donors, communicate their missions, raise money and put faith into action through strategic thinking and creative design.

In fact, “put first things first” is the one of the key habits described in the book, Seven Habits for Highly Effective People. Author Steven Covey explains, “In order to manage ourselves effectively, we must put first things first. We must have the discipline to prioritize our day-to-day actions based on what is most important, not what is most urgent. This habit helps us accomplish these goals we set at the beginning of every year.”

It is so easy to fritter away one’s time every day attending to the “urgent” stuff that pops up in front of us. In my previous routine, for example, I would clean out my inbox first thing every morning (big mistake). That led to lots of distracting emails and clicking on useless links. Pretty soon, I was spending my entire mornings with nothing important accomplished.

A strategic order to the day’s work
I’ve been following Covey’s discipline for many years. So these days, I start off each day with my marketing work, which includes writing helpful ideas for my faith-based organizations and some important phone calls and emails. Next I do my client work. Only at the end of my day do I tackle the boatload of unread “urgent” emails — most of which end up in the trash bin.

By adopting this approach, I’ve changed the course of my business and focused on what matters most. I write down my goals and set objectives to help me reach them. These objectives are measurable accomplishments which I review regularly to keep my focus where it needs to be. Without goals and objectives, I would probably stay busy with activities … but I wouldn’t know if I was getting anything done.

Planning at an organizational level
For your faith-based nonprofit, your most important work could be surveying donors to see why they donated to your charity, or how often they want to receive communications. Other important work could include:

  • writing personal thank-you notes to donors to begin establishing real relationships (instead of simply churning out automatic thank-you messages),
  • spending time to make edits and updates to your fundraising database so that donors’ names are spelled correctly and you’re thanking them for the correct gift amount, or
  • creating an engaging donor-centric newsletter for your supporters highlighting how they make your work possible.

I once worked with a coach who often advised that “Done is better than perfect.” I am not sure of this mantra’s original author, but I have remembered it, and it has helped me make progress toward my goals. I could always spend more time making things perfect … but then I’d never get anything out the door! In the same way, making progress on our goals beats perfection every day. Best of luck to you in your goal-setting for yourself and your organization!