Guide to Conducting a SWOT Analysis

Often, our consultants are asked to analyze an organization and find ways to improve efficiency or begin a strategic planning process. This can be a daunting task that leaves many nonprofits wondering where to begin. To tackle this problem, we use an analytical tool called a SWOT Analysis to help identify four elements that relate to the specific organization. These elements are: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  

Breakdown of each element:

Strengths – aspects of the organization that work well. Once enumerated, the list of an organization’s core strengths can be used to differentiate or market the product or service more effectively.

Weaknesses – areas that need to be improved on. It is important to understand your weaknesses so that resources can be allocated to improve these areas.

Opportunities – areas or resources that the organization could capitalize on that are not currently being used. Having an idea of the opportunities available to you will lead to the most successful and sustainable growth of your organization.

Threats – outside threats that have the potential of impacting the organization in a negative way. Identifying these threats can prevent unexpected losses.

Knowing what makes up these four elements is a good start. However, it takes some effort to get accurate information about your organization to fill these four categories. We found that the best way to gather this information is by interviewing members of the organization and posing the right questions. The Board members, staff, and volunteers know the organization the best and are able to present the most accurate information.

This year, I worked with a nonprofit called Sustainable Claremont. We used the SWOT analysis technique to find the best way to improve the company’s efficiency and uncover the areas that we, as consultants, could contribute the most to. We did this by looking at the organizational weaknesses and focusing our efforts on ways to improve them. We came up with these interview questions; many of which can be used for other organizations.

Strengths

What are your assets?
Which one of those assets is the strongest?
Do you have a strong base of supporters/volunteers?
What is unique about your company?
What are the things that other people say you do well?
What are the advantages you have over other similar types of nonprofits
What type of skills do your volunteers, staff have?
what have made some of your past projects more successful than others
What are our agency’s competitive distinctions?
 

Weaknesses

What areas do you need improvement on?
What are the things you need to avoid?
What areas do similar non-profits to you have an advantage on?
Are you lacking in knowledge?
Are your employees not skilled enough?
Do you have enough funds to start projects you are interested in?
Is your volunteer/support groups not helpful?
Are you having problem generating funds/income?
Is the size of your organization/breadth ever an issue?
Is it difficult getting grant funding/filling out grant applications
Are we slow, sloppy or otherwise below par in client service delivery or program operations?  Do our fundraisers understand how to promote our programs, services, case for support
Have we established reasonable financial goals for the agency, enough to cover costs and extra for growth?
 

Opportunities

What external changes will bring your opportunities/growth?
What are the current ongoing trends in sustainability in claremont?
Will these trends affect you in a positive manner?
Is your branding helping you with grants
what type of grants do you apply for are you looking for
what types of fundraisers are you considering, want to accomplish?
what sort of volunteer sources can we utilize?
Are there opportunities to partner or collaborate with other agencies for fundraising purposes?
What information do we have (or need to have) about new or expanding market opportunities that would be right for our agency and its current suite of programs and services & services?

Threats

Have other nonprofits launched new programs and services or innovative marketing programs that are attractive to our current clients or donors?  
What’s happening in the local market that would hamper our ability to sustain operations or build capacity?
Is there insufficient volunteer commitment?
Are there problems cooperating/collaborating with the city?
Is there donor competition?
Is there any danger of losing grant support?
Could an economic downturn threaten the organization?

by jackson cooney