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How Incremental Goals Inspire Your Fundraisers


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Published January 18, 2017 Reading Time: 4 minutes

Classy employees are walking the walk. We decided to put our fundraising skills—and software—to use with a little company competition. Over the course of our campaign we’ll share our learnings and best practices with you through updates like this.

Incremental goals are a surefire way to achieve larger than life goals. If you want proof, go to the gym. Nearly every person there understands they need a step-by-step roadmap to succeed. Results don’t come overnight in the fitness world—nor do they in fundraising.

When a goal like reaching ideal physical fitness, or achieving your mission, feels far off, it can be hard to stay motivated. Incremental milestones combat this fatigue and help us continue to make progress toward larger goals.

When Classy started our fundraising campaign to build a school in Nepal, our goals seemed slightly overwhelming. However, like a dedicated gym goer, we segmented our bigger goal into smaller, incremental goals. In doing this, we found we were not only able to achieve our initial goal, but far exceed it. Here’s how you can do the same.

Why Set Incremental Goals?

It’s best to break large fundraising challenges down into incremental goals to avoid overwhelming your fundraisers. If all people have to look at is the end goal—which is very far from where they currently stand—they may give up before they even start. A series of modest steps will reduce fear, clarify direction, and increase the probability of your success.

Incremental goals also make it easier to map out a strategy that will lead you to your overall goal. Most fundraising campaigns hit a mid-campaign lull, and if you define what the journey will look like along the way, you’ll be ready to combat things of this nature.

Further, when people achieve incremental goals, it has a lasting and cumulative effect. The human brain releases chemicals that literally inspires and motivates us to keep going once we’ve tasted success.

Your Brain Craves Achievement

When you accomplish a goal of any size, neurotransmitters in your brain release a chemical called dopamine. While dopamine continues to be studied and seems to have several purposes, one such purpose is to motivate us to take action. What’s more, the brain can be trained to feed off dopamine released by success, so people are psychologically driven towards achievement.

According to neurologist Judy Williams, one way to guarantee the release of dopamine is to set incremental goals and to achieve them. To help instigate a dopamine response in your fundraisers, provide positive feedback when incremental goals are achieved—this will gear them up for the next goal.

As we moved through our Classy fundraising campaign, we celebrated all wins our employees had, big or small. Aside from winning a prize, our top fundraisers were publicly thanked in company-wide emails and had their hard work showcased in blog posts.

Challenge Breeds Success

People can sense when they’ve legitimately overcome a challenge to earn a reward. Similarly, they know when they’ve earned a reward without a substantial challenge.

If the incremental goals attached to your fundraising campaign are unchallenging, the result will be unsatisfying. You won’t trigger a dopamine response because there’s no sense of accomplishment, and motivation suffers as a result.

Make sure your goals are challenging, but don’t make them unobtainable. A great tactic to ensure your goals are challenging and rewarding is to use what’s known as gamification. It’s a process that takes normal tasks and turns them into fun activities with elements like competition and incentive.

For example, each month during our Nepal fundraising campaign, the person who raised the most money wins a prize. That promise of an incentive, or the gamification of the process, fans the flame of competition amongst fundraisers.

Further, we encourage Classy fundraisers to challenge themselves and establish their own incremental goals for their personal fundraising pages. Some shoot for an initial fundraising goal of $300, and then increase it after it’s met. Team captains make it a priority to ensure this effort is noticed and celebrated.

At the end of the month, we come together as a company to celebrate how much closer we are to our overall goal. To show how you might build incremental goals into your next fundraising initiative, look at how we set up our Nepal campaign.

Nepal Campaign Kickoff

Our fundraising campaign to build a school in Nepal kicks off on September 21, 2016.

Initial Fundraising Goal Announced

We set out to raise $20,000 by the end of the campaign, which is December 31, 2016.

First Incentive Announced

The same day our initial goal is announced, the first monthly incentive is revealed. At the end of October, the individual with the most funds raised wins.

Initial Goal Met, Incremental Stretch Goal Set

After raising $20,000 before the end of October, we challenge our fundraisers to bring in an additional $10,000. This is our first incremental goal of the campaign.

Second Incentive Announced

October’s top fundraiser is announced and awarded the incentive as we reveal November’s fundraising prize.

Stretch Goal Achieved, New Incremental Goal Added

We surpass $30,000 one week into November, and set a new incremental goal to fundraise $45,000.

Incremental Goal Achieved, Third Incentive Announced

We hit $45,000 at the beginning of December, and set a new incremental goal to fundraise $100,000. The top November fundraiser is awarded the incentive.

Goal Achieved

The $100,000 fundraising goal is met, and the campaign clock is spent. December’s top fundraiser is awarded the final prize of our campaign.


The purpose of an incremental goal isn’t to distract from your overarching fundraising mission. Instead, look at it as a tool you can use to sustain excitement and momentum throughout your campaign while avoiding fundraiser burnout.

Giving your fundraisers the opportunity to succeed early and often in your campaign will pay dividends as everyone works towards their goals. We’d love to hear how you motivate your fundraisers: share some of your favorite tactics below.

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The Pocket Guide to Fundraising Psychology

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