Ideally, an analysis of your organization’s internal strengths and weaknesses as well as external opportunities and threats (SWOT Analysis) is conducted as part of a larger Strategic Planning process. Strategic Planning is critical for the most effective and efficient mission achievement. Done correctly, it is not an academic exercise resulting in a document for a shelf or to simply check an action box.

While a consultant is usually helpful for guiding a Strategic Planning process and devising performance measures, any board/administrative team can work through a SWOT analysis with the right mindset. A key starting point for undertaking the analysis is understanding how it is done, why it is valuable and the opportunity cost of avoiding it.

Basics of a SWOT analysis:

Internal factors are those over which you have some measure of control. You are examining your reality in the present and identifying factors such as resource streams, income stability, number of clients, process/strategy, output or performance measures, culture, board and staff strengths (e.g., fundraising, marketing, communication), volunteers, brand recognition, technological abilities, etc.

Identifying these factors will reveal strengths to leverage and weaknesses to overcome. Do not be afraid to document your findings-this is how progress is made!

External factors are outside of your organization’s control and focus on what is coming in the future. There will most likely be political, economic (financial health of immediate community, region, nation), social, educational, technological, and/or legislative/regulatory issues to consider. There may be changes in the physical environment or demographic shifts. An examination of external stakeholder groups (customers, clients, funders, collaborators) may bring to light pending shifts and changes.
Identifying these factors will reveal opportunities upon which to capitalize and threats to mitigate.

Why a SWOT analysis is valuable:

  • The world is changing every day; periodic SWOT analyses help to ensure that your organization is keeping abreast of external changes as well as internal changes such as board attrition and new board dynamics.
  • To be a learning organization assumptions must be challenged.
  • A SWOT analysis is subjective but one advantage of this is that the brainstorming process connects the board as well as connects administration to the board.
  • A SWOT analysis fosters a proactive mindset, being aware of surroundings and evolving circumstances and avoiding the tyranny of habit and/or perpetually responding to immediate needs and demands.

Opportunity cost of avoiding analysis:

  • The principal, unnecessary cost of delaying a SWOT analysis is missing strategic issues that could have been navigated if recognized in a timely way.
  • Hindsight may be 20/20, but undesirable results can often be sidestepped when weaknesses are addressed and/or threats recognized before the organization’s brand is tarnished.
    Likewise, possibilities can be missed during a window of opportunity that is easily overlooked when a SWOT analysis has not been conducted.

Your organization will be more effective, financially stronger, better prepared for opportunities and able to sidestep crises when there is ongoing, realistic assessment enabled by periodic SWOT analyses.