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

By Michelle Bibbs, Associate Senior Consultant

“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 often inspires goal-setting. In our 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.

SMART goals are designed to spur change. The idea of SMARTIE takes all the elements — Specific, Measurable, Achievable (or Ambitious), Relevant and Timebound — and levels up to embrace Inclusion and Equity.

We understand a SMART goal to be:

  • 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.

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:


A SMART goal would be:

Expand youth mentorship program to three new communities or schools by the end of June.

To make it a SMARTIE goal:

Expand youth mentorship program to three new communities or schools by the end of June, informed by volunteer task forces that are representative of the community (in 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:


A SMART goal would be:

Hire a Chief Development Officer by May 2021.

To make it a 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 refer/identify candidates of color and other diverse backgrounds, you accomplish the goal in a more inclusive and equitable hiring process.

On a tactical level:


A SMART goal would be:

Build a volunteer team of 100 door-to-door canvassers by April.

To make it a 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 manage 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.

Another example of a SMARTIE goal:

Present our annual conference with 20% greater attendance, and people of color or with diverse backgrounds reflected in 50% of the speakers.

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, the results of the canvass, and the content of the conference sessions — 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 should be included because they will influence the outcomes in a meaningful way.

SMARTIE goals succeed when they embrace power with others — when people and/or communities particularly those impacted by a goal are included in accomplishing that goal in a way that shares power, 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. It takes 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. Though we may be facing an uncertain future, 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.

We look forward to joining you in the social impact arena, making strides toward better, SMARTIE goals!

View a video recording of this presentation here.

View the slide deck from this presentation here.