As your group begin planning for 2014, focus on goals that are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timely. (More)

Planning for 2014, Part II: Where Is “There?”

This week Morning Feature invites you to start planning for the 2014 elections. Yesterday we began with an honest assessment of your group’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Today we look at setting specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, timely goals for success in 2014. Tomorrow we’ll conclude with getting from where you are to where you want to be.

Note: This series assumes you are working with a grassroots group such as a local Democratic Executive Committee or club, Organizing for Action, Democracy for America, or a labor or issue-oriented group. If you are not a member of any local political organization, I encourage you to join one. The challenges and plans of the Purple County Democratic Executive Committee, as presented in this series, are hypothetical. Any resemblance to any real organization is purely coincidental.


“We’ve listed our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats,” Charlene said to her precinct leaders. “How do we turn Purple County bluer in 2014?”

“We did good things in 2012,” Tom replied. “We just need to do more of it.”

“So MOTS?” Charlene asked. She saw the blank stares and smiled. “M-O-T-S is the acronym for More Of The Same.”

“Yeah, that,” Tom agreed.

Charlene nodded. “We did do good things in 2012. And President Obama did win Purple County, but all but one of our state and local candidates lost. President Obama is not running in 2014. If we do MOTS, shouldn’t we expect more of the same results?”

“I see the problem,” Vicki agreed.

“Rather than MOTS,” Charlene suggested, “why don’t we try a different acronym. Let’s be SMART instead.”

“I like smart,” Tom said. “Umm … what is it?”


It’s important to set goals, but not all are useful for group planning. Goals should focus your group’s action and allow them to gauge their progress and adjust their efforts as events unfold. To be effective, goals must be SMART:

  • Specific – Vague aspirations and ideals may guide your activism, but your group’s plan needs specific goals such as: building membership, fundraising, voter registration, updating your website and social media, building news media contacts, identifying key races, and recruiting candidates.
  • Measurable – Each goal in your action plan should have a target number. Wherever possible, these targets should measure activities (e.g.: recruiting calls made) rather than results (e.g.: new members).
  • Action-Oriented – Each goal should express something your group will do, rather than some result you hope will happen. “Hold six fundraising dinners” is an action goal. “Raise $12,000” is a hoped-for result.
  • Realistic – Failure can deflate your members’ enthusiasm. Set goals you can reach given the limits of your members’ abilities and time. It’s okay to ask them to stretch, but don’t expect them to grow wings and fly.
  • Timely – Estimate how much time each goal will require, and add a cushion for the unexpected. Look for and minimize bottlenecks, cases where you can’t work toward other goals until another is completed.

Your groups goals must be written down, and should be available to every group member who is asked to contribute. Written goals avoid the problem of That One Person being unavailable and leaving everyone else stymied. Written goals also let group members see how their individual efforts fit into The Big Picture.

“We’re gonna need a bigger base”

“That all sounds good in theory,” Vicki said, somewhat skeptically, “but I’m not sure how it helps our state and local candidates win. I mean, that’s our goal as the Purple County Democratic Executive Committee, right?.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Charlene agreed, pointing to a chart. “So, for example, let’s look at the numbers from 2012. Last November registered Democrats were 35% of the total voters in Purple County, compared to the 39% who are registered Republicans. Our state and local candidates pulled an average 41% of the vote. Even though they were outspent by an average ten-to-one, they won our base plus six percent. I hope our 2014 candidates can raise more money –”

“That would be nice,” Tom interjected.

“– but either way,” Charlene continued, “we’re gonna need a bigger base. I had a friend crunch the numbers. If we register 4000 new Democrats by next year, we boost our base to 37%. If we do that and also get 5000 more Democrats to vote by mail, based on average midterm turnout, we boost our base to 41%. That’s a base-plus-six of 47%, and that gives our candidates a fighting chance.”

“So those are our measurable targets?” Vicki asked. “Four thousand new Democrats and 5000 more signed up to vote by mail?”

“Those are results,” Charlene said. “I asked OFA for numbers on last year’s voter registration work. Based on their numbers, we need to run eight voter registration drives by July 31st, 2014, with at least 25 people working each drive. Here’s my first draft of that timeline….”

Your numbers may vary, but….

The numbers above are purely hypothetical but, like Charlene and the Purple County DEC, your local group’s plan for 2014 should include specific action targets. Also note how their goals moved from vague aspirations (winning state and local races) through results (4000 newly-registered Democrats) to specific and measurable activities (eight voter registration drives with at least 25 people working each).

Those activities then became a timeline. In this example, the voter registration drives must be coordinated with the group’s other activities. Obviously, voters must be registered before the state’s deadline, but Charlene suggested a mid-summer deadline so the group can shift to other turnout efforts in August. Some of the dates on her initial timeline may be community events like county fairs, where a smaller number of people can register more voters. She might also assign a group to follow real estate transactions in the local newspaper and contact newly arriving Purple County residents, and another group to work through local universities and colleges to register students at the start of each semester. Each of those events may need its own plan, with its own set of SMART goals and timelines.

Of course, plans are only worthwhile if your group actually carry them out … and tomorrow we’ll see how Charlene and her group prepare to do that.


Happy Friday!