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Learn how to think about what you want to achieve by highlighting success, and how to go about doing it.


  • What kinds of goal attainment should you recognize?

  • Why recognize goal attainment?

  • Whom should you include in the recognition of goal attainment?

  • When is the best time to recognize goal attainment?

  • How do you recognize goal attainment?

As the end of its first year approached, the North Quabbin Community Coalition had become a going concern, with over 60 people having attended meetings and served on task forces. Funding for an Information and Referral service - one of the area's greatest needs - had been proposed and obtained, and planning for new initiatives was under way. Now it was time for the Coalition to mark the occasion, and to tell the community of its success at achieving its first-year goals.

After some debate, the Steering Committee decided on a year-end luncheon, and put together a subcommittee to organize it. The subcommittee found a local caterer whose prices were reasonable, set a modest ticket price for the luncheon that would pay most of the costs, and worked out a method by which people who couldn't afford the charge could nonetheless attend without embarrassment. In addition to invitations to everyone on the Coalition's mailing list, it sent out press releases and invitations to the media.

The luncheon featured a keynote speaker, short addresses by state and local politicians, awards for exceptional community service and for contributions to the Coalition's first-year successes, and, most important, a celebration of the fact that the Coalition had reached its initial goals.

When an organization or initiative achieves a goal it has set for itself, it should call attention to the fact. It's important for the community to know that it's home to an effective organization, one that can do what it sets out to do. And it's important for the organization to recognize and congratulate itself for its accomplishment, so that it can prepare to move on to the next one. This section, part of a chapter about the celebration of work well done, focuses specifically on marking goal attainment. It will help you think about what you want to achieve by highlighting success, and how to go about doing it.

What kinds of goal attainment should you recognize?

There are a number of different types of goal attainment that are worthy of recognition. They include organizational time milestones; organizational accomplishments; specific events; and goal attainment by individuals or teams in the organization.

Organizational time milestones

A major goal, especially of community -based and grass roots organizations and initiatives, is survival. For such organizations, getting through the first year is a big hurdle. Only about 15% make it through their first five years, and only about 2% are still around after ten years. Reaching an anniversary, particularly a significant one, is a goal in itself, and should be acknowledged.

For example, one adult literacy organization held an open house on its first anniversary, and invited both the press and all the learners, staff, and volunteers who had participated. In subsequent years, there was always a party to celebrate the anniversary, and a news item in the local paper outlining the program's successes and growth over the years.

On its tenth anniversary, the organization staged a party, inviting everyone who'd been involved over the course of its history, as well as the media. In addition to pure celebration, a scrapbook of the organization's history - press clippings, snapshots, fliers, brochures, copies of grants, etc. - was displayed and ultimately given to the founders, and key people in the organization's development were recognized and formally thanked.

The celebration served several purposes: it provided great publicity for the organization; it alerted the community to the fact that the program had survived for ten years and had achieved wide respect; it honored those who had been responsible; it made even new learners and staff members feel that they were part of something special; and it allowed those with a longer organizational connection to celebrate their work, and feel that their efforts had been worthwhile.

Organizational accomplishments

Some examples of goal attainment that are worth making a fuss over:

  • Reaching service goals. These goals are usually stated in terms of specific results that the organization had aimed at (teen pregnancy down 15%, e.g.), but may also encompass the number of people served, or the provision of a new type of service.
  • Reaching membership goals. This is usually expressed as a number, but it could also involve qualitative measures, such as including more youth or residents of a certain neighborhood.
  • Reaching fundraising goals. Local United Ways often erect a sign (usually an image of a thermometer) in a prominent place - in front of City Hall, for example - on which they can record the level of contributions as they come in, with the goal clearly marked at the top. When contributions reach the goal, it's obvious to everyone, and some acknowledgment is placed on the sign.
  • Receipt of a particular grant or other funds. A new state appropriation for the field or for a particular organization, a foundation grant, a large individual donation, or a corporate or other donation from the community may all be goals whose realization should be celebrated.

In Massachusetts, when the state begins a new grant program, it often stages ceremonies for the awarding of the first grants. State officials - sometimes even the Governor - go to organizational sites with oversized checks for the amount of the grant, and present them to organizational representatives amid the popping of newspaper photographers ' flashbulbs and the lights of TV cameras.

  • Awards or other recognition of the organization from outside sources. While these may not have been specific organizational goals, they often mark important milestones in organizational acceptance and development, and can be seen as goals that any organization strives toward.

Important events

These events themselves often mark the attainment of an organizational goal. The signing of a treaty among rival street gangs, an adult literacy or job training graduation, or the opening of a local clinic or mental health center may all represent the fruit of years of work with that goal in mind. It's time to tell the world that the goal has been reached.

Attainment of specific achievements by staff members or other significant people in the organization

Examples of achievements to recognize might include:

  • Significant anniversaries (ten years as director; five years as a volunteer)
  • Receipt of a higher education or graduate degree
  • Election to offices in or awards from a professional organization
  • Promotion within the organization

Why recognize goal attainment?

There are reasons for celebrating reaching your goals that touch on both the external and internal needs of your organization.

  • Public recognition of goal attainment can provide your organization with good public relations. Informing the community that you've reached specific goals can do several things for your organization:
    • Provide general information, in reminding the community of who you are and what you do
    • Attract new participants, volunteers, or contributors
    • Show the community that you're effective - that you get done what you set out to do
    • Draw attention to the needs of your target population
    • Highlight your organization's need for volunteers or contributions
    • Explain your issue to the community
  • Public or private observance of goal attainment can provide staff members and volunteers with motivation.
    • Realizing they've reached an important goal makes people proud of their work.
    • Explicit or implicit commemoration of goals achieved recognizes and praises staff and volunteers for what they've accomplished. (Explicit is better.)
    • Calling attention to reaching goals reminds staff and volunteers that success is possible, and energizes them for future work.
    • Celebration in general is important. Health and community service work is hard and often frustrating, even depressing. You should seize chances to celebrate, both to provide a break from routine, and to remind people why they do this work.
  • Celebration of goal attainment contributes to and sustains the organization's culture, history, and myth.

Every organization has its own culture - the way in which it sees itself and the world, shaped by its philosophy and personalities - its own history - the facts of its founding and development - and its own myth - the organizational and personal stories that provide its image of itself and its work. These three elements endow the organization with its identity and continuity. They are constantly added to as the life of the organization plays out, and are either sustained or changed by the realities of that life.

  • These occasions mark important achievements in the organization's history and leave an impression so people remember those achievements.
  • Anecdotes that stem from these occasions help to build the organizational history and myth. Anecdotes from the past that are referred to on these occasions help to maintain that history and myth.
  • Inclusion in these celebrations helps to initiate new staff, volunteers, members, and/or participants into the organizational culture and incorporate them into the history and myth so they feel they belong.
  • A public celebration makes the story of the organization public, and includes the community in it.

Whom should you include in the recognition of goal attainment?

There are many different ways to acknowledge that you've reached a goal (see below). Whom you invite to witness or participate in your recognition depends upon which way you choose. In some cases - a simple news release to announce a milestone reached, for instance - you won't invite anyone. In others, you may want to keep whatever you do within the organization. In still others, you may invite the whole community.

If your purpose has to do with the internal workings of the organization, you probably want a private celebration. If your purpose has more to do with public relations and informing the community, then your recognition should be as public as possible.

Internal recognition

Don't overlook an announcement over the e-mail system or a memo placed in people's mailboxes, but if you're planning something more, you have some choices about whom you might ask.

From the narrowest to the widest range, possible invitees are:

  • The staff members directly responsible for reaching the goal.
  • All staff. This includes all every staff member, with no distinctions. Don't assume that the clerical staff will answer phones while a party or presentation is going on. Let the machine get it, or find someone else to cover.

"All staff" assumes a relatively small organization. If you work in a university, a large hospital, or other organization with hundreds of employees, in most cases you'd involve only the particular department or unit whose goal was met. Within that group, however, inclusiveness should still apply

  • Volunteers. They may be at the very heart of reaching this goal. Even if they're not, you might want to include them, especially if they're considered an integral part of the organization.
  • Participants or beneficiaries of service. If you provide services, you may want to include those who take advantage of them. Without them, after all, you 'd have no goals to strive for, and many of them they may be as much a part of the functioning of the organization as staff members are.
  • Board members. Involving your board members helps to increase the morale and cohesiveness of all involved in your effort. It might also provide board members with more insight into your achievements, helping them become better advocates for the organization or initiative.
  • Members, if you're a membership organization. Especially if members' financial or other contributions helped to achieve this goal.
  • Supportive officials and community members, especially if they were instrumental in this accomplishment.

Public recognition

For some sort of public ceremony or celebration, you'd probably start out inviting all or most of the people above, and adding some or all of the following:

  • Community officials. This includes all appropriate community officials, even those who have been less than supportive in the past. This may be a chance to gain their support, or at least their good will. Never pass up the chance to create an ally.
  • Specific community leaders, depending upon the event. If you're officiating at a clinic opening, for instance, logical guests would be the hospital director, members of the medical community, and the Board of Health, as well as those business leaders and clergy who sponsored the idea and helped make it happen.
  • Other community members who contributed to the effort.
  • The general public. You may want to have an open celebration, rally, or other event to which the whole community is invited.
  • The media. The media should be invited to, or at least officially informed of, all of these events, even if the events themselves are kept within the organization. You want publicity for every good thing your organization does.

How you want to involve the media depends upon the size, atmosphere, and significance of the event. If it's an internal affair, you might just take your own photograph and send it out with a news release about the accomplishment. (Editors, especially on small newspapers, often love to get press releases with photographs and well-written copy.) If you're staging a large public event, work to get representatives of all the media there - TV and radio as well as newspapers. Persuade them to interview the organization's director, participants, the community member who started the campaign that led to this achievement, etc. You can't have too many stories about what your organization does and how effective it is.

When is the best time to recognize goal attainment?

In general, it's best to recognize goal attainment as close to the actual achievement as possible. If the achievement is a specific event that you know about in advance - an anniversary, or the opening of a new clinic, for instance - the event itself can double as the recognition, so there's no separation at all. When the achievement can't be perfectly anticipated - the awarding of a grant, the release of a report showing that your program is highly effective, successful fundraising over time - try to commemorate it as soon after it's known as possible.

If there's too much time between the achievement and its recognition, the significance of the recognition is weakened, and much of the value to the organization may be lost. The media won't be as interested in the story, the people who actually accomplished reaching the goal may no longer feel connected to the work that led to it, and the community won't find it as immediate or compelling.

How do you recognize goal attainment?

So - you know why it's a good idea to mark the fact that you've achieved an important goal, you know whom you want to invite, you have a date and time picked out. Now, what are you going to actually do for this recognition? Before you get specific, it's helpful to make a few decisions:

Decide on your purpose in recognizing the attainment of this goal

There are really three possibilities here:

  • Purposes related to the internal working of the organization, such as:
    • Acknowledging the hard work and achievement of staff and/or volunteers
    • Fostering a sense of ownership of the organization and its work among staff and/or volunteers
    • Creating an organizational marker to indicate you've reached a particular point in the organization's development
    • Building organizational unity
    • Pure celebration
  • Goals related to the community and other elements outside of the organization, such as:
    • Public relations - it's important to keep reminding the community of your existence and of what great things you're doing
    • Recognition of your organization's work by the community
    • Thanking the community for help and support
    • Creating an opportunity to get the support of influential people in the community
    • Building organizational credibility
  • All or some combination of the above

Decide whether you want a public or private recognition - or both

  • Private recognition. If your purposes for marking the occasion are specifically internal, or if you want to celebrate just with the people who made the achievement possible, some sort of private observation is probably best. The more emotional the occasion, the more likely it is that a private commemoration is appropriate. It will forge stronger bonds, and be more meaningful to those attending if it's not diluted by people who have little or no connection to the work.
  • Public recognition. A public ceremony or event may result in some of the same internal results as a private one, but is most appropriate if your intent is good public relations, public recognition for the organization and its work, and/or giving the community a stake and a sense of participation in the organization.
  • Both. Having some sort of large public recognition, with a separate, private one at a different time, may serve both the internal and external purposes of the organization.

Decide what kind of commemoration you have the resources for

If you're going to do anything more than a press release, you'll need at least some resources. The most obvious is money, but there are other possibilities as well: donated supplies, personnel, specific skills (entertainment, audio-visual skills), space, and equipment (a sound system, for instance). In general, a large event will be expensive. If you have, or have access to, some of these other resources, you may be able to pull one off without much money. If not, you're probably better off considering something more modest.

Decide on the tone you want to set

Once you've decided on your purpose, whether you want to go public or keep it private, and what you can afford, you should have a pretty good idea of what form your celebration might actually take. It could be extremely modest - a simple press release or other announcement to let the community know you've met a goal - or as flashy as a big barbecue with the public invited.

An event can be formal or informal, informative or just fun (or both), upbeat or sober. What kind of event you choose and how you structure it will determine how both those in the organization and those in the community react to it. Two important considerations in this regard are whether food will be part of what you do, and what activities comprise the event itself.

  • Food and drink. Whether your event is public or private, the presence or absence of food may be an important element. Often, the lack of food tells people that the occasion is serious. A catered dinner is more formal than a picnic or a barbecue or take-out from the pizza place or Asian restaurant next door, but any of them will make the occasion more festive. Sharing food is a time-honored way of bringing people together in almost all cultures, and it tends to break down barriers.
    • On the other hand, food can take the focus off the reason for the event. The moment at which you make it available might be crucial: you might want to make sure that public acknowledgements or other pieces of information are communicated before the food and drink come out.

If you have the resources to host a large public picnic or barbecue, it's a good idea to figure out how many people you can accommodate and limit it to that number. You can, for instance, make (free or not) tickets available at several locations, and limit the number of tickets to the number you want to feed. It's important to match the number of people with the amount of food. A lot of people going hungry won't be very festive, and will make your organization look bad. A lot of food left over is wasteful, and will cost you, either in money that you could use for your work, or perhaps in good will, if the food was donated.

Whether or not to include alcohol is a question worth asking. Many health and human service programs serve participants who are current or recovering alcoholics, and it's unfair (and unwise) to put them in temptation's way. A public event is likely to include minors, and it may be hard to police who gets served. Someone may drink too much, and then get into an accident driving home. Your organization's philosophy or purpose may be such that serving alcohol makes you look hypocritical. For all these reasons, it's often wise to make events run by your organization - even if they're limited to staff and volunteers - non-alcoholic.

  • Activities. Is this purely a celebration? If it is, then it will probably be informal. There may be no planned activities, or only activities that are fun - eating, games, dancing, music. A celebration, public or private, might also entail recognition of specific staff, volunteers, or community members who made it possible for the organization to reach this goal.

Recognition in this situation could mean simply that - a public introduction and thank you - or it could involve an award, a gift, or even a "roast" of the person in question.

  • Organizational stories, a scrapbook, news clippings, and other pieces of the organization's history would also fit into a celebration. They help, as described above, to cement the organization and give it continuity.
  • If the event is meant to provide information to the community and/or publicity for the organization, activities will probably span a much broader range. They may include presentations or speeches by some of the organization's participants or target population, by leaders of the organization or the community, by celebrities, or by local or state officials. Once again, recognition of individuals might be an element of this type of occasion.
  • A film, video, or other audiovisual display, a performance, a ceremony, or a parade may also serve to draw both public and media attention to the organization's mission and accomplishment. In some cases, a symbolic action may be appropriate (bursting a pinata to represent "exploding myths about Mexican-Americans," for instance).

Decide on a specific way to recognize goal attainment

What will your event actually consist of? There are as many possibilities as there are goals and people planning recognition of them. Some of the most common are:

A party or meal for staff, volunteers, and/or others connected to the organization.

It could be as small as the few people who actually worked on reaching the goal being celebrated, or as large as a picnic or barbecue in the park for 100 people, depending on your resources and purposes. Besides the obvious - get together at someone's house and crank up the stereo - there are some specific possibilities:

  • A themed party. The theme could have to do with the goal you've achieved (see the box above about the 10th anniversary celebration of the adult literacy organization), or simply be a way to break the ice and have a good time (games, movies, etc.)
  • A dinner dance, with a live band or DJ
  • A sit-down dinner, either in a restaurant, catered, or prepared by someone in the organization
  • An informal buffet, either pot luck or take-out
  • A picnic or barbecue

Other types of in-house recognition. Depending upon the importance of the goal you've reached, and the resources you have available, you may want to stage a smaller or different sort of recognition.

The following will give you a start:

  • An after-work or during-work gathering, with snacks or dessert
  • An in-house awards presentation, or another type of ceremony specifically recognizing those who contributed to reaching this goal
  • A (one-day) hike, canoe trip, or other outing
  • A day or half-day off for those who worked overtime to make this achievement happen

An occasion designed to convey information and/or bring you publicity. A large public celebration, like the barbecue in the park, could attract attention, but if you want to make the community more aware of what you do and how well you do it, there are better choices. One assumption here is that you will do everything you can to assure the presence of the media.

  • News release. This is the least you can (and should) do to let the world know that you've been successful. It costs nothing, but it usually goes only to newspapers, and the newspapers you send it to may not run it. In smaller papers, it's more likely to run if you can include a picture.
  • News Conference. A press conference also costs nothing, but takes more groundwork than a press release. Usually, it means you'll have prepared some things to say, and anticipate that the members of the media will ask questions as well. You may have a program, in which you introduce some program participants or members of the target population, staff members who worked on the project you're recognizing, or others who've had a significant role in reaching this goal.

If you've been doing your homework with the media - establishing and maintaining relationships with reporters, editors and others at all or most of the local media outlets - you should be able to use attaining your goal to arrange stories and interviews. Radio interviews, if they run on local shows that people listen to, are particularly good for getting your message out to those who might not normally hear it. You can often suggest questions to the interviewer, or even tell her what areas you'd like to discuss, thus making sure that you tell the audience what you most want them to know.

  • Reception. A reception can be invitation-only or open to the general public. In either case, it generally involves some refreshments, and serves as a vehicle for the announcement of your organization's achievements. You might want to incorporate a program of speakers, entertainment, or other elements to focus people's attention on your organization and its success. In addition, it gives you a chance to meet or renew your acquaintance with members of the community and draw them into the circle of your organization.
  • Public ceremony. The opening of a new facility or the beginning of a program are occasions that are often celebrated by some sort of public ceremony. A ribbon-cutting or a symbolic lifting of a shovel of earth, accompanied by speeches and photo opportunities, and sometimes followed by a reception, is a familiar occasion for politicians and the media. Such a ceremony can serve to draw attention to your organization, and can be used to explain the nature and importance of the issues you work with. It's also an opportunity to invite local officials and other key people to show their support.
  • Rally. Especially if your goal was highly public and involved the work of many community supporters, you may want to hold a rally to serve several purposes: to celebrate and advertise your accomplishment; to thank supporters for the work they did; and to fire them up for the work still to be done. Organizing and controlling a rally takes some work, but it has the advantages of being highly visible and of emphasizing the amount and enthusiasm of your public support.

A public celebration

A celebration of this kind is the public equivalent of the in-house celebration described above. It can take the form of a public party, perhaps featuring a local band or name entertainer; a picnic or barbecue in the local park or playground; a block party; or practically anything else you can think of or afford. Or it can be much more specific to the goal itself, focusing on the achievement. Depending upon your resources and the character of the organization and the goal, you have a variety of choices as to how to arrange things.

  • You can provide food, either by buying it or getting it donated.

A community-based organization developed a relationship with the owner of a local supermarket. He would donate food for celebrations and events as a "starter." The organization would then ask other markets, mentioning the supermarket that had already donated, and assuring them that they would, of course, acknowledge food donations publicly. The other markets, not wanting to look as if they didn't support community organizations, would almost invariably agree to donate as well. As a result, the organization always had plenty of food for its events, none of the markets had to donate a great deal, and all were recognized as generous, community-minded businesses.

But keep in mind that typically businesses will only continue to be generous if they're not asked too often, probably not more than once or twice a year. And second, always, always acknowledge donations of food or any other gift by businesses as loudly and publicly as you can. You owe it to them, and it will be good both for their business and for your future relationship with them.

  • You can provide food at a small cost (i.e. charge people only what the food costs you)
  • You can ask people to bring food for a community pot luck
  • You can charge (or not charge) food vendors to set up at your event. At the annual Lowell Folk Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts, for instance, community organizations raise funds by providing a variety of ethnic foods at reasonable prices.
  • For an outdoor event, you can ask people to bring their own picnic, while you provide structure, games, balloons, entertainment, hay rides, etc.
  • You can pay for professional entertainment
  • You can ask professional entertainers to donate their services
  • You can seek out good amateur entertainment. There are many people who perform at professional or near-professional levels for their own satisfaction. Almost every organization seems to have, or to know, at least one.
  • You can present entertainment that's specific to the occasion. Staff members or volunteers might perform a skit about the organization, or about reaching the goal you're celebrating, for example.
  • You can structure a situation where people create their own entertainment. Games, sports, sing-alongs, folk or line dancing, etc.
  • You can rent movies or computer games, or provide toys for children to play with while adults socialize.

Other types of public celebrations might involve the goal itself. If you've finally assured the protection of an untouched area from development, for instance, an open-to-the-public hike or birding expedition might be an appropriate recognition of your accomplishment. The restoration of a historic building could be celebrated by a tour. A clinic opening might be recognized by a free blood pressure and cholesterol screening.

Make sure that your celebration achieves its goal

The content and structure of whatever sort of recognition you undertake is limited only by your imagination and your resources. What's really important is that you achieve the ends for which you staged the recognition in the first place.

In general terms, those are likely to be:

  • People within the organization - staff, volunteers, and others - feel good about their achievement, and feel that they've gotten some credit for their hard work.
  • The public has a better understanding of and respect for your organization and its work.
  • The community knows that you've achieved this particular goal, and also understands that that achievement doesn't mean that your work is done.
  • Everyone - both inside and outside the organization - is ready to support your work toward reaching your next goal.

If your recognition has any or all of these effects, then - regardless of what form it takes - it's done its job, and so have you.

In Summary

When you've reached a goal that your organization or initiative has worked toward for a long time, or that acts as an organizational milestone, it's important to recognize that achievement. In the community, recognition increases public understanding of your organization and its work, and helps to establish its credibility. Within the organization, such recognition helps to build commitment and to provide motivation to staff and volunteers. In addition, recognition adds to and maintains the organizational culture, history, and myth.

Whatever type of recognition you opt for, you should include, at the very least, those involved in accomplishing the goal. From there, depending upon your purpose, you might invite other or all staff and volunteers, others significant to the organization, key officials and community leaders and members, members of the target population, or the general public. Recognition should take place as close to or as soon after the actual goal attainment as possible, so that its effects aren't dulled by time.

The actual form of the recognition you stage is limited only by your creativity; your purposes for doing it; the resources you have access to; and the tone you want to set. Your event may be as low-key as the issuance of a press release, or as high-profile as a huge public rally with the mayor, or even the governor, as the keynote speaker. In between are private and public celebrations - with food and, perhaps, entertainment - public receptions and ceremonies, and events organized specifically around the goal achieved.

The basic purposes most recognitions of goal attainment hope to achieve are credit and increased motivation and commitment for staff and volunteers, and increased knowledge of and support for your work in the community. If whatever form of recognition you choose can accomplish these, it's been successful.

Phil Rabinowitz

Online Resources

The article A Denver Boy Scout troop celebrates 100 years describes how one Boy Scout troop used the celebration of a very important anniversary to involve previous members and increase enthusiasm among current members.

Energize! Inc has an area where organizations can share their ideas for volunteer recognition.

Exploding the Big Banquet Theory of Volunteer Recognition: An Incendiary Analysis,” by Ivan Scheier is an essay that argues for not holding large formal banquet-type recognition ceremonies, but replacing them with more informal occasions and day-to-day recognition and appreciation.

The Minnesota Nonprofit Awards are presented by two nonprofit associations, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and MAP for Nonprofits (a management assistance resource.) Awards are offered in innovation, excellence, and other areas.

The Rainforest Alliance Releases New Verification Mark to Recognize Achievements in Sustainability describes how The Rainforest Alliance developed a way to recognize groups that have reached sustainability milestones.