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Systems Vs. Goals

What does this mean?


It is common knowledge that we must first identify clear goals to achieve what we want.  We typically say things like “You can’t get where you’re going unless you’ve identified a destination”.  But there is another side to this equation that is regularly overlooked.
I find that many organizations do reasonably well at goal setting and, with a bit of coaching, also succeed at identifying the strategies and tactics required to get there.  But where they regularly fall short is when it comes to creating systems that make sure these action steps are woven into the fabric of future success.  


Goals are Temporary
Goals are often a temporary celebration of success, rather than a repeatable practice. The habits that lead to systems are discounted or left for “later”.   But later never seems to arrive.   Maybe because it’s a lot of grunt work that can be relatively boring (tip: hire someone who likes nuts and bolts).  But then instead of a trajectory of growth, the goal becomes an obstacle to long-term success!
I admit to annoyance as I work with teams to instill the willpower required to develop practical systems, rather than just moving on to the next goal, and then the next goal, each of which becomes increasingly harder to reach without the habitual processes required to sustain success. Without such commitment, each successful goal just makes the next one harder.
Fortunately, I just finished a fabulous book, Atomic Habits by James Clear, which reveals the need and solution. It focuses on the value of developing and implementing organized habits, leading to repeatable systems, ending in sustainable growth and success. The author stresses an important point:  
Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.
Systems R'Us
Systems are processes and actions that can be identified, documented, and repeated. For philanthropy, it means refining all the important practices that serve as currency to gain loyalty and trust. Including how you identify, build and sustain relationships.
James Clear exclaims - “If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead”.

  • Do you have a donor moves system, or are you still depending on your imperfect memory to forget the many steps required to deal with your potential donors?

  • Have you built your audit, financials, and impact statements from the perspective of an educated donor? Did you identify and collect interesting facts, or are they just a bunch of numbers that don’t even tell a story?

  • I hope yu have a review sistem which make certain that silly misspellings and bad grammar doesn’t reduce your credibility. (that was painful)

  • Are your follow-up and stewardship systems built to increase trust – with personalization, dependability and creativity?

Poor systems are silent killers. One bad meal at a restaurant will stop a return visit. Most opportunities don’t provide second chances. There are too many good restaurants to choose from, and too many great causes.


Good habits must be nurtured and repeated. They are the result of careful analysis, feedback, and organized habits. They are what keeps you safely on the road while driving to your goal. If you aren’t stressing this as much as, or even more than goal setting, then you are likely losing ground.We’re not going to abandon goal setting. But the true endpoint is to weave your systems throughout your goals so that how you get there is just as important as actually getting there.
It takes small changes along with repeatable habits to create your long-term success.
Results are temporary.  Systems are enduring.

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