Wait, Aren’t Goals and Objectives the Same Thing?

One of the challenges new grant writers often face is understanding the difference between goals and objectives. When I teach grant writing, a lot of my students struggle with the nuance between the two terms. It's understandable, especially when you consider the formal definition of each. Here's how Merriam-Webster (2003) defines them: 

Goal: the end toward which effort is directed
Objective: something toward which effort is directed: an aim, goal, or end of action
In grant writing, the goal is “the end” and objective is “the end of action.” Let's look at these more closely.
When preparing a grant proposal, your goal should describe the issue you want to address. It's important to understand that the goal will be broad and can be hard to measure. In fact, sometimes your goal may never be met.
When writing your goal, think long term. Ask yourself:
  • Why are we doing this project?
  • If we could pick the pie in the sky difference this project will make, what would that be?
As you write your goal, be sure it aligns with your organization's mission and addresses the elements of your proposal's need statement.
Objectives, on the other hand, are narrow and definite. They describe what your project wants to achieve (the outcome) and tie directly to your project's activities. Like the goal, objectives should align with your mission and stated need. Try to make your objectives SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely). Not only will this make your proposal clear, SMART objectives can help you develop your evaluation plan.
Let's look at an example for Buddy's House, an animal shelter that wants to implement a spay/neuter program during calendar year 2017. This program includes educational workshops for dog owners to encourage them to have their dogs spayed/neutered. The shelter's mission is to improve the lives of animals in our community and strengthen the human-animal bond.
Goal: To eliminate the euthanasia of health dogs in our community.
Objective: To increase understanding of the importance of spaying/neutering companion dogs. By June 30, 2017, Buddy's House will provide 6 educational workshops on the benefits of spay/neuter to 100 local dog owners. 75% of workshop attendees will understand at least 3 health benefits associated with spay/neuter.
In this example, the goal is vague, yet it relates to Buddy House's mission. The objective defines what they are hoping to achieve, how they hope to achieve it and by when, and what outcome will result.
While writing goals and objectives can be time consuming, understanding the nuance between the two can help you craft a proposal that paints a full picture for the funder and increase your chances for receiving funding.


Lisa M. Sihvonen-Binder holds a Master of Science degree in Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy with Graduate Fundraising Management Certificate and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Writing with a Communications minor. Since 2008 she has been a grants consultant and has raised over $7M for her clients from private and corporate foundations, and local, state, and federal funding sources. In addition to her consulting practice, she teaches the 8-week, graduate-level online course, Grant Writing for Corporate and Private Foundations, for Bay Path University and edits books for CharityChannel Press on nonprofit management and fundraising. She lives in western Massachusetts with her husband and three rescue dogs.


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