Understanding Where You Want to Be and Getting There


As a nonprofit staffer, no one’s going to give you a formula to achieve your professional goals. While most bosses have the best of intentions to help you formulate goals, they often get caught up in their own work. They are focused on the important work they have to do and are trying to figure out the quickest way to get it done. Nonprofit staffers, as you might know, don’t have the luxury of time.

That’s why it’s so important for you to take the bull by the horns and do what you need to advance your career. This means tapping into some self-awareness about what you want. Here are a few steps you can take to learn what you want and understand how you can get it.

  • Figure out where you are: Before you understand what you need you must understand where you are. Think about how you feel every morning when you get up for work or every Sunday night when the work week is creeping up on you. Think about the elements of your job that make you happy or you avoid like the plague. Take stock of where you are currently to form your goals for the future.
  • Think about where you want to be: After you’ve taken stock, think about the elements of your job that you love. What type of role will allow you to do that all day, every day? From there, think about what your ideal professional life looks like. Take some liberty to dream a little bit here. Are you part of the management team? Are you a nonprofit ED? A consultant? Don’t think about where you are now, think about where you’d be if nothing else mattered.
  • Consider how to get there: Now it’s time to connect the dots. What are some steps to take to get from where you are now closer to where you want to be? Don’t get overwhelmed by the number of steps it might take or how unattainable things may seem. Create some steps that you can do tomorrow or next week or in this month. Don’t worry about when you’ll get there, worry about getting closer.

How are you going to achieve your professional goals if you don’t have them on paper? After writing them down and taking stock of your current position, you can understand how the two might connect. Maybe there are educational trainings you’d like to attend. Maybe you want to improve on your public speaking or leadership skills and want to do periodic presentations at meetings. After you identify these things, present them to your boss. Chances are she’ll support you. Anyway, what do you have to lose? But you have so much to gain.


Setting Goals at Work

I recently had my annual review at work, and we all know what that means: forming goals for the coming year. And while I’m all about setting high expectations for myself (and often surpassing them), I feel there’s a real art to forming professional goals.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re sitting down to draft your own professional goals.

  • Be realistic with your time. I put this first because it’s the trap I most often fall in. I have big dreams about where my job could be or what I could contribute to my nonprofit. Unfortunately there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I’d like to. Really consider the amount of hours it will take you to achieve that goal, and if your current workload wouldn’t allow it, you have two options: talk to your boss about shifting responsibilities, or change the goal to be a little less hairy.
  • Think of what would make your job easier. While you need to be realistic about your time, you can dream a little about what your perfect department/job would look like. What’s something you wish you had access to but didn’t? For me, it is creating a technology plan for our development department. It’s something I’ve felt we need for a long time but didn’t have time to do one. And now, since that’s a professional goal written into my review, I need to prioritize making a plan and get to reap the benefits of learning from the process.
  • Consider the higher ups. What are some things your boss or her boss would like to see from you or your department? Think about some basic functions of your department that you know could be improved, and have working on improving them become one of your goals. The higher ups will appreciate that you recognized that need and feel good about you working on it.

Of course, these are tips for when you put together your own goals. Even if your boss would like to form goals with you, come with some suggestions or ideas beforehand. With a jumping off point, the conversation will flow better and you won’t be staring at each other trying to think something up. With more strategic goals, you’ll feel better about your work, and your boss will be happy with your performance.


31 Day Reset: Day 3 – Love Letter

I’m participating in the 31 Days to Reset Your Life program at Happy Black Woman. The program is designed to help you evaluate your goals and priorities and think of them in the context of your life today and how you might be able to refocus on what’s important. Read on to learn about my experience with the challenge!

I was out of town this weekend so I’m a day late on this exercise, but better late than never!

Day 3’s exercise is to write a love letter to your future self. I actually wrote the letter and put it into a program that will email it to you later… mine will be coming in a month. For the letter, I took the seven parts of my life that I evaluated yesterday and instead of what I liked or disliked about each, I wrote what I love… or hope that I will love in the future, as a result of this program. I’m not quite sure that I did the assignment correctly, but I basically wrote my goal for each area, or what I’d like to ideally see for myself. For example:

Lifestyle: I love that you have prioritized leisure time in your life.

Work: I love that you appreciate the work you’re doing but don’t stress over it.

Finances: I love that you have a budget and plan to pay off debt and save.

I guess the hope is that with these goals you will slowly begin to believe that they can come true. I certainly hope so!


Updating My About Me Page

Describe yourself in four paragraphs. Not so easy, is it? Putting together my About Nonprofit Chapin page on this blog turned out to be just as challenging. And updating it was even worse.

I had been waiting to update the page until I had started both my new job and new graduate school program. They both are directly related to what I write about in this blog so I knew they’d be applicable. So, I waited, and waited… and waited. Then, the time came. I needed to update the page.

Putting together the history of my employment and involvement in the nonprofit sector wasn’t so bad. That’s really all facts. It’s what comes after that which was so difficult. Not difficult, per say, but… weird. And interesting to see how much had changed in the last six months.

Do you remember what your goals were six months ago? I do, mostly because I’ve been in the process of applying to graduate school, jobs, and the like, so I’ve needed to write everything down. What has been most striking to me is how much my goals have changed in the past six months.

I’ve always been on the path of becoming a nonprofit CEO. I’ve admired the way CEOs get the opportunity to connect with all types of people, collaborate, and make decisions that have huge impacts on their organization and ultimately the cause they are working for. Three out of my five most important values relate to things a nonprofit CEO would do: leadership, leaving a legacy, and making a difference.

But in the past six months I’ve really been thinking about what these values mean. What does making a difference mean? What does leadership mean? And that’s got me thinking – why do I want to be a nonprofit CEO?

In fact, one could argue there are bigger ways to affect the nonprofit sector. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about becoming a consultant. One consultant could affect multiple CEOs in one week, which in turn could affect multiple organizations and multiple causes. And although a consultant isn’t necessarily the leader of an organization, she is a leader in her own right, forging ahead with best practices in the sector. And she’s definitely leaving a legacy and making a difference.

Of course, I don’t know where my path will lead, and the most important thing is that I’m keeping an open mind. Especially with this Masters in Nonprofit Administration, I know I’ll end up somewhere I can definitely exercise my most important values.