U.N. SDGs: Choosing the Right Goals for Your Organization

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a broad platform that actualizes the idea of giving with a purpose.  In 2015 all the United Nations member states adopted the impact measurement framework which consists of 17 broad goals, 169 targets and, currently, 232 indicators. The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are “the world’s best plan to build a better world for people and our planet by 2030” according to the United Nations.

The broad outline of the goals affords the opportunity for a wide variety of organizations to attribute their positive programs, grantmaking efforts, and environmental, social and governance activities to one, if not many, of the goals. The large umbrella of issues covered by the SDGs is increasing transparency between philanthropic giving organizations and nonprofit organizations by providing a common impact language.

Choosing the SDGs that best fit your philanthropic giving organization or nonprofit is a three-part process:

1. Understand your own mission

Nonprofit organizations and philanthropic giving organizations both have mission statements that help to guide the work they do. Remaining focused on this guide and truly understanding how it shapes your work is the first step in properly aligning with the SDGs.

For example, consider that you are part of a philanthropic giving organization and your mission is to encourage socioeconomic advancement for the working poor. When examining the list of the SDGs you find that eight goals could possibly be a good fit. Focusing on eight goals all at the same time is too many to be effective. Each goal has many indicators and even more trackable measures which means your programs would become very unfocused and your resources spread too thin. The best way to begin to narrow your focus is to understand the mission of your partners.

2. Understand the mission of your partner(s)

Private/public partnerships are imperative to impactful change. Understanding the mission of your partners is key to choosing meaningful goals. There are many sources of data to aid in choosing goals;

  • Publicly available government information
  • Town halls
  • Surveys
  • Fireside chats
  • Learning reports

The following is an example of how to utilize those resources: Imagine you are a philanthropic giving organization with a mission to encourage socioeconomic advancement for the working poor and you need to better understand the mission of your potential nonprofit partners. You start by pulling publicly available data to find geographic locations of most of the working poor. Once the geographic locations are identified, you find local connections through already existing contacts.  When you make local connections, you then create your own survey which is distributed by your local connections to other potential partners. This data collection process continues until you have a data set that shows the areas of need. In this case, your research shows your partners’ needs align with SDGs 4, 11 and 13. The final stage now is to agree, with our partners, on what SDGs to use going forward.

3. Mutually agree on the UN SDGs and subsequent measures with your partners

Transparency and partnership are key to adopting the goals that are meaningful to measure impact for your organization. Publishing your discovery work and community engagement exercises is the best way to make sure you are meeting the community need and that you and your partners are on the same page.  Based on our example above, it is reasonable to assume that two or three of the SDGs might be the key focus of your foundation. Although you and your partner have determined your key SDGs, it is possible that in subsequent research, one of your goals is no longer relevant.  At this point, you converse with your partner to establish which are in scope.  For example, upon review of survey data, SDG 11 is no longer in scope.  As a result, you and your partner focus on SDGs 4 and 13.

Join Alexis Fish for her bbcon session UN Sustainable Development Goals: Choosing the Right Measures for Your Organization and Community Partners” for a deeper dive into how your organization can align with the SDGs. Register today!