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Setting Goals - What, How, and Why


Setting goals for your group often doesn’t seem like a very important or exciting activity to participate in. However, this is possibly one of the most important activities that your group’s leaders should be constantly and consistently engaged with. Goals bring focus to a student group, direct your group’s energy in a focused manner, can resolve potential conflict between leaders, and can make your group’s activities much, much more engaging and exciting.

Why Set Goals?How to Set GoalsSMART Goals

Why Set Goals?

Goals are Emotionally and Mentally Compelling

  • Being able to see an end-goal that is reachable and realistic can be very compelling and invigorating. Compare it to your experience as a college student, where you have your end goal of reaching your degree in sight; you constantly get closer and closer to it. Just as graduation can be exciting and motivating to you, so too can goals set for your group, such as reaching 50 total members by the end of Winter semester.
  • If you are a leader of your group, or simply involved with planning projects and brainstorming, you are probably someone who is very goal-oriented. You might just not outright realize that as it is often done unconsciously - you can see or create goals without actively thinking of doing so.

Goals Bring Focus to a Group

  • They keep a group on target, meaning that activities and plans are easier to decide upon and move forward on when they all further an established set of goals
  • Each step is a step toward a specific goal. It is all too easy to just wander around and plan unfocused meetings or activities when a set of goals do not exist to guide your planning process.

Goals Reduce Conflict Energy

  • It is all too common for even the best group leaders to come into conflict or disagreement over the direction or activities of their group. Having a set of agreed-upon goals can help focus leaders’ excitement and energy toward shared goals, and away from conflict.

Goals Increase Task Energy

  • Building on what was said above, having a set of goals not only avoids potential conflict, but also creates even more energy and excitement to meet the goals that have been set.
  • Goals can create a more cohesive leadership, and a group that is excited, involved, and engaged in both the planning and execution of events and activities.

How to Set Goals

  • Firstly, and most importantly, get consensus! Your goals will not work without the buy-in of the entire leadership as well as the general membership.
  • Set specific goals that are reachable and measurable. This can be anything from tabling twice a month, to hosting a speaker once a semester, to participating in an interfaith service project by the end of the year.
  • Create action steps to achieve those goals, and write down the names of those responsible for carrying them out!
  • Record and document your progress regularly. If you do not already, you should have executive meetings at least once a month where you should check in on your goals.
  • Keep in mind that course corrections and adjustments may be necessary as time goes by. Do not be afraid to revisit your goals and adapt them to the current situation if necessary. Trying to hold to unrealistic goals does no one any favors, and can also kill any excitement about meeting them.
  • When you reach one, or several, of your goals, be sure to do an after action review. An after action review should include questions such as:
       - What did we do well?
       - What could we do better?
       - What did we fail to anticipate?
       - What should we do differently next time?
       - Be sure to document these to be revisited next time your leaders sit down to plan goals.
  • Celebrate meeting your goals and recognize those who were integral meeting them.
       - Always praise more than you get praised.
       - Leaders should gain gratification from the group’s successes.
       - Not recognizing or praising others' contributions can lead to low commitment from them.
       - Humans enjoy recognition; doing so can empower them to continue doing awesome stuff.


SMART is a system of goal-setting that is easy to use, but brings with it a whole lot of benefits to your planning process. It has been a very popular goals system in recent years, and even we here at SSA national use to for goal-setting.

SMART is an acronym that means goas should be defined as specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound.

  • Specific

Goals should be simplistically written and clearly defined. Make sure that everyone is on the same page and committed to the goals as they are set out.

  • Measurable

Goals should be measurable so that you have tangible evidence that you have accomplished the goal. This can also include several short-term, or smaller, measurements built into the goal. Simply put, this means that if you set an X date for a service project with Y participation, then those two variables are measurable after the fact.

  • Achievable

Goals should be achievable; they should push your group a bit so that you feel challenged, but realistic enough so that you can achieve them. You must possess the appropriate knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to achieve the goal, or know of a resource in order to gain said skills or knowledge. Achievable goals can create a lot of motivation, especially if the challenge seemed hard in the bigger picture, before being broken down into do-able steps.

  • Results-Focused

Simply put, goals should measure outcomes, not individual activities. This is not to say that you cannot break the goal down into manageable steps, but that the end-goal is what your group should ultimately be tracking and measuring.

  • Time-Bound

Goals should be linked to a length of time that creates a practical sense of urgency, while still remaining realistic. This creates the sense that each step must be done in the near term by those responsible, without being able to be put off. Without such a time scale, the goal may not create the wanted outcome.

SMART Goal Guide

Below is a SMART goal layout plan, if you would like to use it to guide your goal-setting process. You can copy this and print it out, and can create more space on it for your planning process if needed.

We also have an example available to help guide your goal-writing.



1. Specific: What will the goal accomplish? How and why will it be accomplished?


2. Measurable: How will you measure whether or not the goal has been reached? List at least two potential measurements.


3. Achievable: Is it possible? Have other groups done it successfully? Do you have the necessary knowledge, skills, abilities, and resources to accomplish the goal? Will meeting the goal be challenging, yet realistic?


4. Results-focused: What is the reason, purpose, or benefit of accomplishing the goal? What is the result (not activities leading up to the result) of the goal?


5. Time-bound: What is the agree-upon completion date and does that completion date create a practical sense of urgency?


If, at any point, you need to re-evaluate your set goals, be sure to go back through this guide again to make sure that you have worked through everything once again so that it remains consistent and realistic.

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