How to Write Goals and SMART Objectives for Your Grant Proposal

Vision and Reality

Illustration of SMART goals and objectives.

 patpitchaya/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The goals and objectives section of your grant proposal can make or break your request for funding.

This section of your proposal describes what your organization hopes to accomplish with your project. It also spells out the specific results or outcomes you plan to achieve.

You'll have to convince your funder, such as a foundation, that your goal embodies a worthy vision and that you can realistically achieve your objectives.

What Is a Goal?

Goals are:

  • big and broad, even visionary
  • general intentions 
  • intangible 
  • abstract
  • hard to measure

A goal is really about the ultimate impact or outcome that you hope to bring about.

Link the goals of your grant proposal back to your need statement.

To more effectively "hook" grant reviewers, use visionary words in your goals. Try terms such as decrease, deliver, develop, establish, improve, increase, produce, and provide.

What Is an Objective? And How Do You Make Them SMART?

A goal is only as good as the objectives that go with it.

The objective represents a step toward accomplishing a goal.

An objective is:

  • narrow
  • precise 
  • tangible
  • concrete
  • measurable

Beverly A. Browning, in her Grant Writing for Dummies, suggests using the S.M.A.R.T. method of writing your objectives. Make them Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

Browning also suggests two other types of objectives to consider. They are "process objectives" and "impact objectives." The first, process objective, describes a task or activity with a specific start and end. The second type, the impact objective, describes the future impact your project will have should it be funded. One can use all three types of objectives within a proposal to accomplish particular goals.

Examples of these types of objectives can be seen at Browning's excellent article, 3 Types of Objectives for a Winning Grant Proposal.

According to Mim Carlson and Tori O'Neal-McElrath, in Winning Grants, you should keep the following in mind when preparing your objectives:

  • State your objectives in quantifiable terms.
  • State your objectives as outcomes, not process.
  • Objectives should specify the result of an activity.
  • Objectives should identify the target audience or community that you plan to serve.
  • Objectives need to be realistic and something you can accomplish within the grant period.

Here is an example of a goal and its matching objective:

Goal: Decrease the degree of malnutrition among young children in the southwest region of Baltimore. (note the vision of this's what you hope to accomplish)

Objective: By the end of year one, provide 125 mothers in the southwest area of Baltimore with a 2-hour training program that will provide health and nutrition information. (notice how this SMART objective is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound).

(Optional) Evaluation Method: Instructors will track the number of mothers who receive the training, when they received it, and where.

More Tips for Writing Good Goals and Objectives

Carlson and O'Neal-McElrath, in Winning Grants, suggest you keep the following in mind as you write your goals and objectives for your grant:

  • Tie your goals and objectives directly to your need statement.
  • Include all relevant groups and individuals in your target population.
  • Always allow plenty of time to accomplish the objectives.
  • Do not confuse your outcome objectives for methods.
  • Figure out how you will measure the change projected in each objective. If there is no way to measure an objective, it needs to be altered or dropped.
  • Don't forget to budget for the evaluation (measurement) of your objectives.

Not sure how many objectives you should have for each goal? Aim for at least 2-3, but don't worry if you need much more. Your project may have many steps involved in achieving a particular goal. Just keep in mind that each objective must be measurable to be included. The quality of that measurement will impress your grant reviewers more than the sheer number of objectives.

Evaluation of an objective can take many forms, from simply counting people who received your service, to surveys that ask people to report actions or feelings after having received the service, to tests administered to measure changes (particularly applicable in a medical setting).

Think about whether you need quantitative or qualitative information. The first counts things, the second explores experiences and feelings. You may need both types of information, depending on your objective. Be sure you understand the differences between outcomes, inputs, outputs, and results.

Many proposal writers include an evaluation element, spelling out how the results of each objective will be measured, under each objective. I've included one in the example of goal and objective above.

Take plenty of time to write your goals and objectives. Their quality could make the difference in convincing your funder to provide money for your project or turning down your request.


Storytelling for Grantseekers, Second Edition, Cheryl A. Clarke, Jossey-Bass, 2009 

Winning Grants, Step by Step, Third Edition, Mim Carlson and Tori O'Neal-McElrath, Jossey-Bass, 2008 

Grant Writing for Dummies, 5th Edition, Beverly A. Browning, Wiley, 2014.