In January, it’s common for us to reflect on the previous year — what went right, what we could have done better — and set goals for the coming year. New Year’s Resolutions are a common vehicle for moving forward.

But are resolutions really that helpful for your association?

Honestly, they probably aren’t. Rather than focusing resolutions, it might make more sense to adopt a new approach to the new year.

Why Association New Year’s Resolutions Fail

We like the idea of lofty New Year’s resolutions, but the reality is that, too often, we do it wrong. There are some reasons that setting these types of resolutions can be problematic:

  • Often resolutions are just a laundry list of wishes: In many cases, your resolutions aren’t actual goals or benchmarks. Instead, you make a list of things you wish were different in your organization and then act like you just need to change these items to find success.
  • Resolutions might be out of your control: Not only do many associations create a wishlist, but many of the items are out of your control. There are aspects of the economy, raising money, hiring, SEO, and other things that you can’t control. You can’t control when Google changes its algorithm, and that could render your current strategy to hit a search goal impotent.
  • “Stretch” goals could actually be unrealistic: It’s common to set ambitious resolutions for your organization in an effort to encourage your members and employees to “stretch” themselves. There’s nothing wrong with improvement, but are your goals based in reality? If they aren’t, they’ll fail and you’ll end up with a morale problem.

It’s a good idea to have goals for your organization, but too often they’re a part of this New Year’s resolution process that doesn’t actually follow good goal-setting practices.

What to Do Instead: Identify a Focus

Rather getting hung up with setting New Year’s resolutions, take a step back. Try to identify the one thing that would most help your association this year.

It’s easy to get bogged down in a list of minutiae that you think is important — but really isn’t. When you try to fix everything at once, you end up fixing nothing. Really take an honest look at your organization. What are some of the pain points? Where are there inefficiencies? Is there a focus that could help you move forward.

We hear a lot about the Pareto principle when it comes to business and productivity. But when we look at the big picture in our associations we tend to forget this idea. However, the reality is that you’re probably getting 80% of your results from 20% of what you do. The idea is to find that small portion that is likely to offer the biggest impact and make that your focus for the year.

Whether that focus is processes, administration, web design, membership increases, or fundraising, just pick one. Yes, you need to maintain the other important tasks that make your association function. But don’t set resolutions around those things. Find one thing you want to work on this year, and make that your main focus.

Keep Setting Goals for Your Association

This doesn’t mean you have to stop setting goals for your association. In fact, by choosing a main focus for the year, you can make your goals more effective.

Once you know your focus, break it down. What actions do you need to take for improvement? Can you break those actions down into monthly projects, each with its own benchmarks and measurable results? In many cases you can.

And when your focus has paid off, you can consider the next focus that will have the biggest impact. You don’t even need to based it on a yearly calendar. Get in the habit of tackling one thing at a time (by breaking it down) and you’ll find that arbitrary timelines don’t matter as much as constant improvement.

If you’re trying to narrow down a focus and set good goals for your association, a company like TVDA can help you create a plan that makes a difference. Someone with an outside eye can help you identify the best ways to go about moving forward — and see things you might miss.

Sure, use the end of the year as a time for reflection. And use the beginning as an excuse to renew your commitment to your association. But don’t assume that you have to follow outdated traditions to get results.