Be a SMARTIE: An Equity-Forward Approach to Goal Setting

By Michelle Bibbs, Associate Senior Consultant at The Alford Group

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” – Coretta Scott King

The start of a new year usually inspires goal-setting. In the social impact sector, we all strive for more than to just get things done. We aim to drive impact, to change outcomes – sometimes to change entire systems that affect outcomes for people and communities.

The times we are in have made clear that in order to make an impact for more of us, the nonprofit sector – like the public and private sectors – have to center inclusion and equity as core values and lean on those values to guide our work.

If we are not taking an equity-centered approach in our work, then we are only creating impact for some of us, not all.

If you change nothing, nothing changes. Uncertain times demand that we constantly explore new ways to make change in our workplaces and communities. In the current “new normal,” the question becomes how?

The Alford Group is an equity-forward firm, committed to encouraging the nonprofit sector to make room for and listen to diverse voices, to spark innovation and empower individuals and organizations to flourish, even under unusual circumstances.

So when we learned of SMARTIE goals from The Management Center, we knew we wanted to elevate this equity-centered approach in our partnerships with nonprofits.

A SMART goal is:

  • Specific — It reflects some important dimension of what an organization seeks to accomplish.
  • Measurable — It includes a standard or benchmark to be met.
  • Achievable or Ambitious — It is challenging to the degree that accomplishment would mean significant progress or even a “stretch” for the organization.
  • Relevant or Realistic — It isn’t overly challenging or reflective of too little thought to resources or execution.
  • Timebound — It includes a clear deadline.

We improve SMART goals and transform them into SMARTIE goals by adding Inclusion and Equity.

  • Inclusion is an opportunity to bring traditionally excluded individuals and groups into processes, activities, decisions and policy making in a way that shares power. While diversity is about who is present at the table, inclusion is about who is empowered to make decisions or participate in a meaningful way.
  • Equity means including an element of fairness or justice to address systemic injustice, inequity, or oppression.

SMARITE goals are designed to spur change. Moving to SMARTIE goals requires us to think of inclusion and equity in setting goals that will lead to better outcomes and the change we all are working toward. SMARTIE goals can be applied at every level in an organization. Building Inclusion and Equity into strategic, operational, and tactical goals assures the organization’s commitment is anchored in actionable steps.

So how do we make goals not just SMART but SMARTIE? Let’s look at a few examples.

On a strategic level:

SMART Goal: Expand youth mentorship program into three new counties by the end of June

SMARTIE Goal: Expand youth mentorship program into three new counties by the end of June, with volunteer task forces that are representative of that community (by age, gender, race, and other characteristics) advising the expansion

See the difference? A SMART goal accomplishes positive change in the community while the SMARTIE goal includes members of the community to advise the expansion.

Let’s look at another example.

On an operational level:

SMART Goal: Hire a Chief Development Officer by May 2021

SMARTIE Goal: Hire a Chief Development Officer by May 2021, seeking out 1-2 networks of diverse fundraising professionals to identify 4-6 candidates of color/diverse backgrounds to include in the candidate interview pool

By seeking out networks of diverse fundraising professionals that can help identify candidates of color and other diverse backgrounds, you accomplish the goal in a more inclusive and equitable hiring process.

On a tactical level:

SMART Goal: Build a volunteer team of 100 door-to-door canvassers by April

SMARTIE Goal: Build a volunteer team of 100 door-to-door canvassers by April, with at least 10 people of color recruited as volunteer leaders first, so they can help shape the way we run the canvass

A SMARTIE approach builds the same group of volunteers as the SMART goal, informed by people recruited as leaders who will shape how the canvass is conducted.

In each of these cases the outcomes of the goals — the youth mentorship expansion, the candidate who is hired, the eventual makeup of the 100-volunteer team, the conversations they initiate with whomever they are canvassing and the results of the canvass — are all achieved but they have greater impact stemming from how the goals were written.

Let’s be clear. SMARTIE is not about checking off boxes or tokenism. The difference is power. Power can show up in various ways: as power over others, power with others and power within. So, the idea here is not to just tack on “… and x number of volunteers or new hires should be people of color.”

It’s not that simple.

The people you include in the process of making and accomplishing your goal are at the table because they will influence the outcomes in a meaningful way.

SMARTIE goals succeed when they embrace power with others. When people and communities, particularly those impacted by a goal, are included in a way that shares power, the process shrinks disparities and leads to more equitable outcomes.

Now — Are you ready to write your SMARTIE goals?

The Management Center has a worksheet available on their website to help you practice.

Inclusion and equity do not happen by accident. They require intentional, continuous work to keep striving for these ideals. Thinking further to build Inclusion and Equity into SMARTIE goals can lead to big, transformative change. We need not limit our imagination.

Collectively, we have an opportunity to create a better world, where possibilities are endless and reflect the best of who we are as humans.

The Alford Group looks forward to joining you in delivering on new SMARTIE goals!

View a video recording of this presentation here.

View the slide deck from this presentation here.