Objective setting: sometimes being SMART isn’t enough

Generally speaking, SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound (although there are some variations on this). It’s a great checklist for objective-setting and just meeting that criteria is harder than you might expect. But for nonprofits and those with limited resources for marketing, being SMART with objectives isn’t enough.

I’m currently working with the lovely people at IDS who run the Eldis Climate Change Resource Guide. We’re developing their new marketing plan through a series of  workshops which gives us all time to do some reflecting and research between sessions. In preparing for the workshop on Objectives, I pulled out my usual SMART checklist and realised we needed to put the draft objectives through two more filters: are they Ethical, and are they Rewarding?

First, a quick recap on SMART and how it might apply to nonprofits. Why do you need to spend time getting your objectives Specific? Often, you might not be the person who implements the plan or reviews it at the end so now’s the time to be clear about what success will be judged on and to double-check your reasoning. Are you being precise about the Who and the What?

“What gets measured gets done” is a familiar expression and a hard lesson to learn (interesting debate on the origin and meaning of the saying here). If your objectives are Measurable, then it will be your brief to the Monitoring and Evaluation section of your marketing plan, and here’s your chance to discover in advance if this is something you can actually monitor going forward. Can you produce a baseline for it? This is a good test for how measurable it is and a tool for helping you decide how high to set your aims (what does a 10% increase really look like?).

If you’ve done your SWOT analysis then you’ll know if your objectives are Achievable i.e. something you can do, bearing in mind your skills, knowledge and resources, but remember to look at them as a set, rather than individually. If it’s just you and a small budget getting things done, how big a task are your setting yourself if you have to achieve all of them?

I’m seeing more and more development organisations using a Theory of Change to articulate their assumptions about their ambitions and activities. Whatever strategy tool you use, if your objectives are Relevant, then you should be able to see where they fit into your overall vision and understanding of how change happens.

An easy one to overlook, are your objectives Timebound? Have you put in a deadline and is it the right one? Think about your reporting and funding cycles; maybe a month earlier will make a difference.

Being SMARTER: 1) Are our objectives Ethical?

Of course you’re all good people but it’s worth asking: is achieving these objectives in the best interest of our stakeholders? Are we being responsible with our resources? Like many nonprofits, Eldis is using public funds to make a difference in the world, in this case, by increasing global free access to knowledge on climate change and development. Adding Ethical, makes us consider whether the objectives are going to make the best possible use of that money, especially for those needing to respond to the Value For Money agenda.

Being SMARTER. 2) Are our objectives Rewarding?

Brilliant objectives are good, achieving them is great. Have you got a set of objectives that prompt enthusiasm, or dread? Some things just need to get done, and the motivation might come from the way they are pursued (the choice of tactics) but ask yourself, do the objectives inspire you and anyone else who will be working on them? If you thrive on a challenge and want to learn as you go, check if you haven’t made any of them too Achievable. For year-long objectives, are people going to be able to see results before the end date? If not, maybe set some short-term sub-objectives so you can celebrate success along the way.

I’ve found the SMARTER checklist helpful for agreeing objectives, and think it could be an interesting framework for reviewing what’s been learnt about marketing and objective-setting. What other filters do you use for your objectives?

From Follows to Fivers: Crowdfunding as market research.

Disclaimer: I had a Victor Kiam moment after stumbling upon hiSbe’s crowdfunding video (the subject of this post); I liked the campaign so much, I invested in the company. I’m now a proud Non-Executive Director of a social enterprise that plans to give folk on average incomes an opportunity to shop ethically (“How It Should Be”). Here’s what I learnt about crowd-funding along the way.

Crowd-funding is becoming an important source of income for startups, both nonprofit and commercial. Buzzbnk is just one of several specialist services that support ventures or enterprises that are looking to grow, to attract funding from people interested in supporting social change. Typically, campaigns run for a limited time, e.g. 2 months, people give small amounts in return for benefits, e.g. public recognition, invitations to organisation events, discounts, etc. and if they don’t raise their target amount then the money is returned to investors.

The “crowd” element shifts the focus from attracting investment from a few people, to generating small contributions (and word of mouth) from lots of people and that’s what makes it interesting in terms of market research.

An important stage in New Product Development, is test marketing, e.g. launching a product in a small way to refine it and learn more about demand before a full (expensive) roll out. Even before that, you need to test the demand for a product (or service).

Crowd-funding could serve a useful function in finding out if (enough) people really are prepared to put their money where their mouth is before a new venture is launched. An enterprise like hiSbe, that aims to leverage shopper power, will need to have local support (not least, lots of customers) in order to achieve its social goals. Running a campaign prior to opening the pilot store is one way of testing the truth of that support, and raising start-up funds at the same time. Do you want to know if your Followers, Friends, Connections, etc. really care? Ask them to whip out their credit cards.

Likes are the digital equivalent of having friends and family said they’d buy your gizmo if you were able to get it produced. Crowd-funding shows that social media backing can be skin-deep. Some proof of this can be found in the Buzzbnk archive of campaigns that were Misunderstood i.e. ended without meeting their targets. Looking a bit deeper at the projects, some of them had 1000s of Likes on their Facebook groups, but only a handful of people ended up donating a tenner. Whereas, among the Successful campaigns, we find examples where there’s less social media backing, and more financial backing e.g. Pants to Poverty, which exceeded its target.

Is it all about the idea? Or is there an art to converting people from passive supporters to active fans?

Crowd-funding is an interesting way to check whether there’s genuine, active support for your project or venture before it’s too late and raising its profile in the process. But some of the success lies in positioning as much as the product. The Guardian has some good advice on how to make Crowd-funding work well in the nonprofit sector, much of which can apply to businesses too.