Setting Goals – the Monkey and the Pedestal

Setting Goals – the Monkey and the Pedestal


Dear Colleagues,

Every January, I set personal and work goals.  I love this process of thinking about what I accomplished in the past year, what I hope to do in the year ahead, and what concrete steps can get me there.  I also appreciate that the beginning of Lent, the start of a new program year, and many other points throughout the year let me restate my goals!

As you think about fundraising and financial goals for your congregation this year, I want to introduce a concept called “the monkey and the pedestal.”   Astro Teller, the leader of Google’s innovation lab, first coined it.  But I learned it from Annie Duke, a world-class poker player.

This mental concept can be used in many situations to think about how we approach problems.

Here’s the idea: imagine you wanted to teach a monkey to juggle flaming torches while standing on a pedestal in the town square.  Where do you start?  Teaching the monkey to juggle?  Or building the pedestal? 

Many times, desiring early success, we start with the “low-hanging fruit” or “do what we know.”  We build the pedestal.  But the effort, money, and time spent building the pedestal will be useless if we can never train the monkey.  Worse, having the pedestal, we may spend even more time trying to teach the monkey than reasonable. 

What if we started with the monkey?  Could we identify the bottleneck in our ministry instead of the low-hanging fruit?

Where does the church get stuck?

What’s most challenging for us to do?  Addressing the bottleneck first or discovering we can’t allow us to move on to something more doable.
Here’s what the monkey and the pedestal might look like in practice.  A church wants to grow.  To do this, they invest all their financial reserves in renovating their building.

“Build it, and they will come.”  After a year of meetings, contractors, and expenses, the building (the pedestal) looks amazing.  Still, no one new comes to the church.  The church members never figured out the hard part – inviting new people into the life of their community (the monkey). 

Remember the monkey and the pedestal as you set goals for 2023.  Figure out the complicated and challenging parts of the problem first. 

Yours in Faith,


Rev. Andrew Warner, CFRE
Generosity Outreach Officer
OPTIC – Office of Philanthropy, Technology, Identity, & Communication
United Church of Christ


Generous Thoughts

Generous Thoughts is a collaborative effort of UCC stewardship, generosity, fundraising, and development professionals to provide our conferences and congregations with information to aid them in their fundraising efforts. The SNEUCC is represented ...

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