October Word(s) of the Month: Goals vs. Objectives

Goals. Objectives. What’s the difference? And do you need to care?

If you care about your nonprofit being successful then, yes, you need to care. You know that setting appropriate goals and objectives are key to the success of your nonprofit’s initiatives, and your nonprofit as a whole. Because you can’t save the world without a plan!

And according to the Claxon Method, if you’re not clear on your goal, you can’t identify your target audience, and then your messaging risks running amuck. And, although amuck is fun to say, it’s not strategic to do.

That’s why this month, we’re diving deeper in the meanings of goal and objective. We wanted to know: Can we glean anything useful by looking at the history and evolution of these two seemingly similar words?

Let’s start by looking at how we use these today, especially in the business world:

Goal: An overarching aspiration that guides your decisions.

Objective: The smaller, measurable steps that get you to your goal.

For example, the goal of your nonprofit organization may be to end homeless in your city. An objective may be to increase the amount of affordable housing in your city by 50% within 5 years.

Makes sense.

While these words both evolved at different times and in different ways, the definition is basically the same: A destination. Maybe that’s why people use them almost interchangeably.

But it’s worth understanding where these two words came from and, therefore, how they are distinct from one another.

It turns out goal has a longer history than its cousin objective. According to Etymology Online, it first appeared in a poem in the early 14th century as gol, indicating a boundary or limit. The interesting thing? That poem was the word’s only known appearance until a few decades later, when it started to show up as “the endpoint of a race”.

So goal has its roots in sports. Obviously, there’s still a lot of goal-talk today in sports. But when did it evolve to also mean a purpose, or something to strive for, outside of a sport?

Most likely, somewhere around 1960 when the word’s frequency in written communications began to increase drastically:

 

Why the increase? Dunno exactly. But there’s no denying it became in vogue to have/use/write about/talk about having goals. Cuz, #LifeGoals.

In comparison to goal, objective hasn’t been around as long. It appeared as an adjective in 1610 as the counter to subjective, meaning simply “in relation to its object”. Only much later, in 1855, did it start to indicate “unbiased and quantifiable”. (If you’ve ever put together a research study or survey, you’ll know this usage well.)

The usage we’re interested in for this post, meaning “aim or goal” came about much later. In 1881 to be exact. Objective point is a military term used to describe a place upon which to focus a troop’s attention. The stand-alone objective (minus the point) evolved from this usage.

So, whereas goal sprouted from a general boundary or endpoint in a race, objective is rooted in military strategy. Could this be why objectives are smaller and more measurable than goals? In military strategy, your overall goal may be to win a war, and its the objective points of individual troops that will get you there.

I can’t say for sure if this is the case. But I can say that being mindful of the difference between goals and objectives, and having both for your organization make you and your nonprofit more successful. And your messaging more remarkable!

Side note: According to The Wordifer, goal is one of those words that nonprofits use too darn much in their external communications. Yet, its cousin objective isn’t nearly as prevalent. If you think about it, this makes sense. When we’re communicating our nonprofit’s purpose to the world via our website, we’ll often speak of our end goals, and not the objectives that carry us there. However, if your goal is to inspire trust in your supporters — and it should be — you might way to share your objectives as well.

Is your writing about expression or impression?

Old vintage typewriter, close-up.

Recently, I asked if your writing made people dream or think? I advocated for a combo meal–sometimes writing to make people think and sometimes to make them dream. Depending, of course, on audience and context, and where someone was vis-a-vis the Engagement Cycle.

Now I want to ask you this: is your writing simply an expression or does it, in fact, make an impression?

Umair Haque–economist, author and super smart dude–thinks it’s only about expression.

Umair Haque, writing

[If you don’t know Umair, he’s da bomb. He’s thought-provoking and insightful and has a way of making you re-think your world that is both frightening and liberating.]

For certain types of writing, Umair may be spot on. But when it comes to nonprofits and writing, the goal should be to express so that you impress. Anything less is time wasted.

There’s an opportunity to cost to writing, i.e. if you’re writing, you’re not doing something else. Nonprofits are trying to do so much with so little that opportunity costs are even more pronounced.

  • If you’re the Executive Director of a small nonprofit and you’re writing a grant, you’re not spending time with donors or meeting with program staff to fine-tune your after-school program.

All of the above-mentioned activities are critical. So if you’re spending time writing–whether it’s a grant, or web copy, or a blog post, or notes from a recent donor meeting, or whatever–that writing should get you somewhere. It should be good enough to impress the people–donors, volunteers, elected officials, advocates, board members, staff–who matter most to your organization at a given point in time.

As with all other activities your nonprofit takes on, writing should be about impact. It should be about moving people along the Engagement Cycle. It should elevate and advance your mission and your work. Anything less is simply expression without impression. 

Some resources to help you write impressively:

  1. The Wordifier helps you amplify your words.
  2. This post gives you tips for error-free writing.
  3. And Claxon University’s Words on a Mission course will guide you to words that will definitely impress.

 

Are you making them dream or think?

nonprofits, writing, language

“There are two types of writers: those who make you think and those who make you dream.” ~ Brian Aldiss

This is the opening quote in Paulo Coelho’s wonderful article, “On Writing”.

I love this quote. It begs the question: which is the better type of writer?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this. It’s largely personal preference. I contend there’s too much thinking and not enough dreaming going on these days (and I’m not quite sure where all of our thinking is getting us in many cases, to be quite honest…).

So, for me, writing that makes me dream is downright dazzling. It opens up my world and my heart.

But I also value a well-written piece that makes me think, or reflect, or sets me straight on my facts and figures.

I also think it’s not an either/or. Good writers can make us think and dream. Maybe not at the same time. But in equal measure and when the time is right for one or the other.

Now, you may cringe at the thought of writing and want to declare, “I am not a writer! Let The Writers (big ‘W’) do the writing.”

It’s highly likely, however, that you churn out words every day. So whether or not you consider yourself a writer is largely irrelevant.

What is infinitely relevant is figuring out how to make your words work for you. 

On this blog, you can find lots of practical tips on things like making your writing flow better and making your editing error-free. You can play with the Wordifier and find the very best words to amplify your words. All great resources and tools.

But none of them can answer the question about whether you’re writing to make people think or dream. You have to decide that for yourself. And it’s worth asking every time you sit down to write: will people respond to this because it speaks to their heads or their hearts?  (Hint: It’s usually the latter, rather than the former, especially for donors. Don’t believe me? Check out this and this.)

Heads think. Hearts dream. We need both to make the world go ’round. Write accordingly.

Is ‘community’ a lousy word or what?

architecture*A Super Quick Primer on Content Words and Function Words*

Content words give meaning to the contents of what we’re saying. They make it possible for us to create a mental image.

Function words make our sentences grammatically correct. They give us structure. Examples include riveting words like: a, an, and the.

We need both. Our brains don’t notice function words. Their job is to be like language ninjas–to get the job done without being noticed. So, from the perspective of using language to stand out from the crowd, content words are where it’s at.

Now back to the question at hand: is ‘community’ a lousy word?

Our research revealed that nonprofits use the word ‘community’ more than any other content word.

When you clack it into the Wordifier, you’re going to get a big ol red light that tells you to stop using it because it is sooooooooooooooo overused viewers of your website won’t notice it. So, in that way, yes, it’s a lousy word.

What’s a community-focused organization like you to do? You’re going to have to use the darn word at some point.

Think like an architect.

If you’re building a house, you have to have a foundation, walls, supporting beams, a roof, windows, etc. But there’s wide latitude in how an architect puts these elements together.

Ditto for how you talk about your organization. If you’re writing a sentence, you’ll need nouns and verbs and function words. If you’re focused on your community, at some point you’re going to have to use that word. The question is: what can you surround the word with to make it stand out?

What do you really mean by community? Do you actually mean neighborhood? Or maybe you mean your school community?

Can you add an adjective to qualify it? Maybe spunk up the sentence with (gasp!) an adverb?

Don’t just write your sentences–architect them. Bring the elements together strategically for maximum effect.

FYI: We cover this in much greater depth in Claxon University’s course Words on a Mission. Go here and you can preview the course!

Conjunction Junction & the All-Powerful ‘And’

Language Lab podcast, free tools, nonprofits, language, words, messagingSmall words matter. They can be oh so powerful. Yet they bounce off of our lips so quickly that you hardly notice them. But notice them you should!

Take for example the humble ‘and’. How many times in a day do you use it? How about ‘but’? Both have three letters. Both have two consonants and one vowel. Both are used primarily as conjunctions. And that’s where the similarities end.

And brings people, things, thoughts, ideas together. But pushes them apart. And is packed with positivity. But drips with negativity.

Take three minutes and contemplate the All-Powerful And with me in this week’s Language Lab podcast.

[If you’re like me, you totally want to listen to Conjunction Junction right about now…here you go.]

And for those of you who like to read your poetry, rather than listen to it, here is the excerpt from Richard Rohr’s book The Naked Now that inspired this week’s podcast. (Many thanks to Julie Lombardo for sending this my way!)

“And” teaches us to say yes
“And” allows us to be both-and
“And” keeps us from either-or
“And” teaches us to be patient and long-suffering
“And” is willing to wait for insight and integration
“And” keeps us from dualistic thinking
“And” does not divide the field of the moment
“And” helps us to live in the always imperfect now
“And” keeps us inclusive and compassionate toward everything
“And” demands that our contemplation become action
“And” insists that our action is also contemplative
“And” heals our racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism
“And” keeps us from the false choice of liberal or conservative
“And” allows us to critique both sides of things
“And” allows us to enjoy both sides of things
“And” is far beyond anyone nation or political party
“And” helps us face and accept our own dark side
“And” allows us to ask for forgiveness and to apologize
“And” is the mystery of paradox in all things
“And” is the way of mercy
“And” makes daily, practical love possible
“And” does not trust love if it is not also justice
“And” does not trust justice if it is not also love
“And” is far beyond my religion versus your religion
“And” allows us to be both distinct and yet united
“And” is the very Mystery of Trinity