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Tools for nonprofit leaders: The old SWOT analysis still works very well...when used to advantage

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In the 1960s, Albert Humphrey of Stanford University developed the SWOT analysis technique as a strategic planning tool. The concept is simple and easy to apply:

You identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) of a particular organization, an event or a unit (which can also apply to a human unit when doing a performance evaluation). Much has been published on this technique since then, including this article on CharityVillage: How to Conduct a SWOT Analysis.

The SWOT analysis has been considered by some as a dated management fad (similar to management by objectives, total quality management (TQM), reengineering - the list is long). My experience suggests that using the SWOT analysis technique is as valuable today as it ever was...IF you use it to its full capacity.

In simple terms, one begins with brainstorming a list of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the unit being evaluated (for example, your not-for-profit organization). Obviously, some statements recorded on your flipchart are more mission critical than others; you may elect to establish criteria for what stays on the list (i.e. likelihood and degree of impact).

SWOT Flipchart

Strengths - Key Factors Weaknesses - Key Factors
1. 1.
2. 2.
3. 3.
4. 4.
Opportunities - Key Factors Threats - Key Factors
1. 1.
2. 2.
3. 3.
4. 4.


The utility of the SWOT analysis comes from the exercise of identifying ways to maximize or offset each key factor identified through your SWOT in your strategic and/or action plan. What actions will you take to ensure the growth potential identified as an opportunity? How will you sustain the strong volunteer leadership listed as a strength?

Threats are more than likely going to be external forces; perhaps a key threat is the emergence of a strong competitor. In such a scenario your plan should identify goals that address how to minimize the impact or more aggressively compete fiercely with that threat.

Opportunities are likely based both in your internal and external environments. Potential to expand current offerings and to offer new ones are typical examples. Your plan should itemize how you will seize the potential of each one.

It is not enough to identify the opportunities, weaknesses, etc. in your plan; you need to elaborate on how your plan is going to manage each. How will you turn your weaknesses or threats into strengths or opportunities and where is that referenced in your plan? Which activities are top priorities; which are low?

And with all things in the orbit of “planning” how will you evaluate success? How will you monitor progress? How will you tweak and adjust? The answers to these questions need to be in your plan.

It sounds simple; it is.

Paulette in president of Solution Studio Inc., a consulting practice that serves the nonprofit association community. Paulette co-authored two manuscripts on risk management and not-for-profit organizations and regularly conducts risk management, strategic planning and board development workshops. She can be reached at 1-877-787-7714 or

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