Nonprofit Leadership: the beauty and benefit to not meeting your goals

I failed.

Every three months I set goals for my business. In June, I created five goals around sales, income, marketing and business systems. I met two of them.

I felt pretty crummy about this for a while. Not meeting your goals, despite your best effort, can send you into a shame spiral. It did me. I had to work and I still am working on reframing the experience. I want to share with you some lessons learned I learned from not meeting your goals and how to use it as a tool to propel you forward.

  1. You feel the shame and embarrassment of not meeting your goals.

    Damn if those numbers don’t look at you in judgement. Whether it is the numbers in your bank account, scale or your last appeal, not meeting targets can hurt. What can help is to look at the numbers with neutrality instead of judgement. The numbers are information to help guide you. Goals are only numbers to help you create intention, focus your energy and stay in momentum. I have to remind myself often: numbers are information, not judgement!

  2. You get a bit gun-shy to create more BBGs (Big Bodacious Goals) for yourself because you don’t want to feel shame again.

    What if you set big goals and fail again? What if you do? Think about what feelings you could be avoiding by lowering your standards and expectations. When you keep pushing feelings down is when they keep coming back, like a nightmare Wack-A-Mole game.

    No one wants to feel the shame of failure, yet the best leaders know that feelings are like a wave that will pass, and jump in with new energy. Your future doesn’t equal your past. What can help you get over feelings of shame is to feel the shame. Yep, sit in it. Get angry, upset or sad. Because when you can dig it and feel it, you can then release it.

  3. If your job performance is valued by how you meet goals, then you work to make them as low as possible.

    And others work to make them as high as possible. Leadership says, “Raise THIS much!” and you are like, “Well, maybe I could raise this much..” Goals are created in this tension, and this sets up a difficult dynamic from the beginning. I coach nonprofit board members to not evaluate by simply meeting goals, but by the daily actions that are taken. Think about it like this: if you think big and go for it and not quite make it, you probably did more or raised more that you ever thought.

  4. You forget to celebrate the successes you did have because you are focused on what you don’t have or didn’t do.

    I stated at the beginning that I achieved two of my five goals, and partially achieved the others. When I was focusing on what didn’t happen, I wasn’t grateful for what did happen! Living in gratitude for what you do have is the fastest way to get more of what you want. I had to step back and take a look at what I did accomplish and celebrate it! When you focus on not meeting the goals, you move your focus from gratitude to fear and lack. And you carry that forward into your next effort. Celebrate and be grateful for all you achieved, don’t baby/bathwater all your successes.

  5. You can learn more in failure than success

    As much as it sucks sometimes to not meet the goals or expectations, the best lessons are learned from them. I learned that I had more offers than I could sell and I need to streamline. Organizations that I work with welcome failure as information about how to move forward will learn from the experiences. Building a culture of deep trust that values truth telling and welcomes growth in success for failure will then use these experiences to grow, evolve and get the most important work done.

    If you want to build more trust in your nonprofit, so you get more done and create more impact, I can help. I work with nonprofit board, staff or both to build deep trust in themselves and each other so the communication and productivity flows, in success or failure. Check out my influence course for teams on how to build strong, energy-rich nonprofit environments.

Maryanne is founder and CEO of Courageous Communication. She works with nonprofits to grow their influence and leadership so they can attract new donors and raise more money without feeling rejected, ineffective or pushy. She is author of Courageous Communication: how codependence is making your nonprofit brand boring and what to do about it and creator of Up Level Your Influence, Fearless Fundraising and Magnetic Messages trainings for individuals and organizations. She is leading a movement to change “nonprofit” to “human investment company” to accurately reflect the contributions of the sector. She’s known for her love of ultrahigh heels, extra-large Diet Cokes, and short karaoke rotations. If you want to learn how to build your influence and leadership, connect with Maryanne for speaking or training.

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