2. Clarify Your Goals

Establishing clear goals is key for helping you discover what you want to achieve out of your new advising relationship. It’s a critical step in defining your work with your new advisor and mapping out your efforts moving forward.

To help you get started, here are six suggestions designed to focus your thinking so you’re prepared for your initial goal-setting conversations.

1) Clarify what you want to accomplish.

Ask yourself: what is the one bottleneck that’s stopping you from growing your organization? The answer to this question will illuminate your core problem, providing a critical piece of information that you and advisor can use to build your future goals around.

You may start with a simple answer, like “I’m not making enough impact in the community,” but that only speaks to the broad issue and not the root cause. Push your thinking a little further to arrive at a more specific answer, like “I’m not reaching out to enough clients to achieve our organizational impact goals.”

A focused answer like this clearly articulates your objectives and makes it easier for you and your advisor to identify the appropriate goals—in this case, reaching out to more clients and increasing measurable impact.

2) Make sure your goals align with reality.

Next, it’s important to assess whether or not your goals are feasible given your circumstances.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have the time and resources available to meet this goal?
  • Are you fully dedicated to achieving this goal?
  • Are you aware of the sacrifices this goal will require and are you willing to make them?

Based on these answers, think critically about whether or not your goal is realistic. This is a great conversation for you to have with your advisor, as their professional experience can provide thoughtful insights to help you gauge the feasibility of your goal.

3) Determine your benchmarks for success.

Now that you’ve set your goals, it’s important to define what success would look like to you. Think about the specific items that would indicate success to you—e.g., metrics like increased donations or number of clients per month who received your services.

Consider what these metrics have looked like up to now and share this information with your advisor. Work together to set numerical targets for each success indicator, like increasing donations from individuals by 30 percent or attracting a hundred new clients per month.

Setting these benchmarks early provides a great way to track your progress, telling you exactly how you’re doing at a glance.

4) Set a realistic timeline.

Now that you’ve worked with your advisor to define your goals, key metrics, and targets, it’s time to set a schedule for achieving them. You may already have a deadline in mind, but you should work with your advisor to make sure your timeline is realistic.

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • When are you prepared to start this project?
  • How much time can you commit to your goal each day, week, and month?

Based on these answers, work with your advisor to assign a date to the numerical targets you’ve established—for example, gaining those a hundred new clients next month or increasing donations from individuals by 30 percent within the next six months. Make sure you set a timeline that’s long enough for the goal to be realistic, but short enough for you to stay motivated.

5) Define strategies and map out the path to success.

At this point, you have a target and deadline in place, so now it’s time to work with your advisor to define the actionable steps that will help you reach the goal. This is an area where your advisor’s advice will be invaluable, as they may have ideas you hadn’t even considered.

Work as a team to determine your overall strategy. For example, if your goal is to attract new client, you might think about:

  • Engaging with local community centers to get the word out about your service offering
  • Launching a search engine marketing campaign to increase the number of potential clients visiting your website
  • Recruiting former clients to be your organization's ambassadors to prospective clients

Once you and your advisor have agreed on the overall strategy, map out individual tasks in a calendar. Set specific “mini-goals” by day, week, or month—for example, “Launch my organization’s Facebook page by the end of next week” or “Engage with the local community center in downtown by the end of the month.” These mini-goals help keep momentum going to ensure that you can stay on track with your timeline.

6) Track your progress frequently.

Once you’ve put your plan in place, be sure to track your progress using the benchmarks you established with your advisor. When you can see how close or far way you are from hitting a target, it can be extremely motivating and encouraging. This will keep you on the path toward achieving your goals.

Your first goal-setting meeting can seem daunting, but by following these best practices, you’ll ensure a productive, focused meeting with your new advisor. Spend time working through these exercises in advance, so you can come to the table prepared and get the greatest benefit from your mentor’s time. Your advising partnership will be unique, so feel free to use our suggestions as a guide for developing a goal-setting process that makes the most sense for you.

Next: Share your vision and needs