Defining Success

What does success look like to you? Shattering a glass ceiling? Grabbing a gleaming brass ring? Metaphorically, of course, unless you’re an acrobat in a very posh circus act, I suppose. Or is success defined on a smaller scale for you – are you looking to make a change in one person’s life? Or earn the right to a weekend nap? Success can mean wildly different things to different people – although I’m guessing most of us are pretty pleased with a weekend nap. The three nonprofit groups with which Mockingbird Analytics works will vary wildly in their definitions of success.

Let’s take a deeper dive into each type of non-profit!

1) Client or service-based groups that bring in people in need of help, then provide them with information, services like counseling, or physical items. For this group, success means they’ve served a significant number of people, and in doing so, the organization has made a real impact on their lives.

2) Volunteer-based organizations where others are recruited to help achieve a certain goal. For these folks, success is focused on the changes made to the community by volunteers. However, it’s also important to factor in how many and what type of people are volunteering.

3) Advocacy or activism-based non-profits that wish to create macro change through lobbying or altering policies. For this group, success is on an even larger scale. If they manage to change a policy, that’s a step toward success, but they must also consider the ramifications of the change: how many people are affected? Does the public understand the importance of the policy adjustment? How far-reaching are its effects? 

With all these different definitions, success can feel rather slippery at times. The different groups are all tied by the desire to ultimately make a difference in an individual’s life, but to truly succeed, they must be so much more than the sum of their parts. So how do we even go about making goals? 

Start with your basics. Figure out the WHO – whom are you impacting? Once you understand your key demographic, you can decide what success would look like for them. Is it a broad goal, like ending homelessness? Or something more narrowly defined, like creating more low-income housing in a certain area?

Let’s go further with that example. Ending homelessness is certainly a hopeful success story, but it also seems like an unfair fight. The goal feels insurmountable, and when objectives prove overwhelming or impossible, our instinct as rational humans is typically to quit.

However, if we break up the larger “success” into bite-sized pieces and consider each goal its own mini victory, we can push forward on our journey, reassured that we’re making a difference but still focused on the larger picture. In this example, each person housed marks a success for the non-profit. In the big picture, it might be a drop in the bucket. On a micro level, for a family that suddenly has a roof over its head, it’s an enormously impactful success.

If your definition of success seems impossible to achieve, try looking at it from a smaller, more personal angle. Each minor victory builds upon itself, and though you may never be able to end homelessness entirely, your organization can still make a tremendous difference.

It’s important to have a clearly defined goal; know what you’re working toward, and make sure everyone involved in your organization understands what success looks like. If you need help figuring it out, Mockingbird Analytics would be happy to assist. In the meantime, we’re going to take a well-deserved weekend nap.