Understanding the Difference: Purposes, Goals, and Objectives

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An organization’s purpose reflects its overall, grand vision. It highlights the organization’s desire to correct or resolve a large problem or community concern. For example, “improvement of the human condition,” “end homelessness” and “feed the hungry” are all statements of purpose. While these are desirable aims, they are extremely broad in perspective. Almost anything one might do could be considered contributing to the achievement of these purposes. One could make a contribution to a homeless kitchen/shelter, buy food at a retail store and give it away on the street, give money to another organization already working in this arena, or even raise funds to donate to an organization serving this purpose. One might even limit personal consumption of food. Purpose alone offers little ability to assess or determine if these actions effectively contribute to the achievement of the grand vision.


Typically, goals are statements of greater specificity than purposes and reflect an attempt to further clarify exactly what the organization would like to achieve. For example, the organization might state their goal is “to provide free food to poor people in San Francisco, CA” or “to provide lower cost housing to low-income families in San Francisco”. Certainly, these goals are much more specific than the purposes described above and, in fact, they improve the organization’s ability to select and assess the type of activities they should engage in to accomplish their overall purpose. However, goals alone lack sufficient clarity about how to proceed and what resources will be needed. Consequently, obtaining measurable results remains difficult, until you create your objectives.


Ultimately, the aim of any undertaking to affect constructive and meaningful change requires the formulation of desired outcomes into clear, understandable, measurable and achievable objectives. For example, in keeping with the previous descriptions of purposes and goals, an objective might be “to provide one hot meal per day, for 3000 low income people in San Francisco, CA in 2015”. Another example; “to provide affordable apartments (affordable defined as < 25% of their monthly income) for 25 families of 2-4 people in San Francisco, CA who are living below the poverty level in 2016.” In each case, sufficient specificity now exists to allow the development of an operational plan to achieve the desired outcomes.

Objectives are the translation of purpose and goals into well-defined plans, budgets, resource requirements and allocation needs. This allows for the creation of detailed tasks, timelines and deliverables, and the creation of productive, transparent and manageable work plans. Through objectives, one can determine exactly what it required to achieve the desired outcomes and how to go about it. The activity or endeavor becomes manageable in the process. Effectively, one can get a handle on what to do and how to do it in order to accomplish the organization’s purpose. Without this level of specificity, the organization remains compromised because they have no way to determine or ensure that they are proceeding on the right path.


Purpose:       Reduce Hunger

Goal:              Provide hot food to homeless people in San Francisco.

Objective:     Serve 3000 hot meals x 7 day a week to homeless people in San Francisco.


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