Stuck with Impossible Goals? Here’s Help!

Do you get asked to do this all the time?

Do you get asked to do this all the time?

It happens all the time.

Smart nonprofit staffers come to me and share their secret: the goals they are assigned to accomplish are completely unrealistic.

They are in a situation where their operational and performance goals are more than anyone can possibly accomplish. Some of the goals they have been given are not even carefully vetted or thought out.

Extra tasks to do are simply dumped on staff without any priority or thought.

These staffers are in serious “overwhelm.” Work is a drudge. And life is no fun either.

Have you ever been in this situation? It’s not pretty.

I can’t imagine anything more awful than being stuck with goals that are impossible to achieve. 

A happy story of a nonprofit who got organized.

Here’s a happy story of how smart planning is getting everyone on the same page, protecting the staff and even sharpening up expectations of the board.

Frankie Lemmon SchoolMy friend Dan Bruer, CEO of the Frankie Lemmon School  (for children with developmental disabilities, here in Raleigh, NC) and his board are the heroes of this story.

He and his board have just created an ambitious new Strategic Plan.

Now that the Strategic Plan is completed, he and the board at it again – they’re crafting a smart Business Plan to achieve the strategic goals.

I love this approach.

It’s not often that the board is involved in helping to think though exactly HOW to implement the new goals.

The beauty of involving them is that they’ll all be on the same page if there are any new investments in staff or programs.  Yay!

Have you ever been overwhelmed by goals that are too ambitious?

Have you ever been overwhelmed by goals that are too ambitious?

“Having the board thinking through HOW we would reach these new goals is absolutely essential,” Dan said.

“It never put the staff in the place of defending themselves or staff salaries to the board.

“Because it’s the board members themselves who are helping us decide how much staffing we’ll need to reach these new, aggressive goals.”

Here’s a blow by blow of what happened:

1.The board and leadership developed a lofty new Strategic Plan.

Then they handed it to the staff.

So far, so good.

Our CEO Dan started wondering – “How do I implement this with my current staff and funding strategies? Is this realistic?”

He knew that the school was not staffed up to do all this.


So what did he do?

2. Dan asked for more help from his board.

He went back to his board and said “I need your business acumen.  Help me develop a business model and smart staffing structure that will help us reach these wonderful goals.”


3. Together they looked carefully at the staffing – what are they focusing on all day?

Dan asked his board for help in planning how to implement the new Strategic Plan.

Dan asked his board for help in planning how to implement the new Strategic Plan.

Now Dan and the board are working together to line up staff work responsibilities with the “strategic priorities” that the board had identified.

And everything will be tied right back to the overall Strategic Plan – its objectives and goals.

So every staffer’s work will be based on one of the objectives of the new Strategic Plan.

And they are making sure that they are building in accountability –so all the staff will clearly know what to focus on and what they will be evaluated for. YES!

What’s more – any new staff to hired will be people to focus on the strategic priorities.


Now, here’s where it gets interesting:

4. The board members decided what kind of board they needed in order to execute the strategic plan.

Focus on philanthropy in Board development.

Focus on philanthropy in Board development.

The board decided on a profile for new board members . . . and they are focusing on philanthropy.

The new profile was clear: largest donors; broadest networks; committed to advancing the mission.

As Dan says, “We wanted to grow. So we decided to speak the truth about what our goal is for the board.”

Because the plan was for a big expansion programming and services, they knew it would take money. So they were all OK with saying “It IS about the money.”

Now this really is a dream come true for many nonprofits.

5. The board members decided to hold themselves accountable.

So they created a board scorecard with only 5 points, that tracked the key activities they needed board members to do.

Dan says that the board members are now all over those items on the scorecard – and are making sure they are getting done.

It’s the old cliche for both board and staff – what gets reported – gets done!

Check, check and check again!

What made all this work?

  1. First Dan had the guts to go to his board and ask for help.
  2. He had business folks on the board who could take an idea and help him make it into a hard plan.
  3. The board members were willing to hold themselves accountable.
  4. They took a firm business- like approach to the planning process – one that made everybody a winner!

Bottom line:

Your plan can protect you. If you are confronted with impossible tasks, pull out the plan and say:

“Here’s our plan that we have all agreed upon. I can do this OR this but I can’t do BOTH this and this. Can you please help me set my priorities?”

Good luck and may the smart planning forces go with you!

Leave me a comment and share with me your planning successes!