• Jennifer Rackliff

Exploring the SWOT Analysis

The SWOT analysis is a method for evaluating an organization’s internal strengths and weaknesses against their external opportunities and threats. The acronym SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The SWOT was developed for use and application in organizational strategy, and, over time, has been broadly adopted as the go-to tool set for understanding changes impacting the inside or outside of a business or organization.

What is a SWOT analysis?

Let’s define what the SWOT acronym really means:

  • Strengths: characteristics of the organization or project that give it an advantage over others.

  • Weaknesses: characteristics that place the organization or project at a disadvantage relative to others.

  • Opportunities: elements that the organization or project could exploit to its advantage.

  • Threats: elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the organization or project.

A SWOT can be used at any time to rapidly evaluate changes in your organization, system, process, competition, or funding. It can be used to help build a proactive plan for how you will respond, act, or face those changes. A SWOT analysis should be conducted at least once a year to shape the upcoming year’s strategy.


How to successfully conduct a SWOT analysis

Here are some important things to keep in mind as you develop your SWOT analysis:

  • Be honest with yourself. Explore what you are currently doing as well as what you want to do and how you want to be. Engage your staff to independently do their own SWOT of your organization – the results may be very enlightening!

  • Take the time to do a thorough SWOT. All organizational leaders have limited time, but this is one activity that will save you valuable time in the end. Do not waste precious time or dollars on ineffective strategies, decisions, or plans because you didn’t spent the time in the beginning to build a sound SWOT analysis.

  • Make sure you have facts to back up your SWOT. If you want your team to stand behind you then you need to provide solid data to support your SWOT analysis. Theories, feelings, or even instincts will only go so far in motivating a team.

  • Avoid generalities. Be specific throughout your analysis. For example, don’t just say that your company has great communication. Instead identify why your communications are top notch: “The team leaders keep everyone informed of their current project status and progression towards goals.”

  • Identify the root causes. Dig deep into your analysis and explore the source of your responses. If a weakness is that you are late delivering your annual reports, look deeper at the cause of the issue. Is that weakness caused by your the design team’s turnaround time or the fact that your copy isn’t finished on time? By examining the root of each strength or weakness you will identify the strength or challenge and use it going forward.

  • Discuss discrepancies. The simplicity of SWOT analysis tools allow for various interpretations. Have an open dialogue with your own team about what is important to your organization, how the tool applies to your organization, and how to best utilize the tool for your organization.

And finally, have fun, and know that the work your organization is doing is extremely important and tools like the SWOT analysis can go a long way in ensuring you are getting your message and mission out to the world.


Using your SWOT Analysis

The most important part of the SWOT analysis actually begins once you are done with it. After comparing all of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, use the analysis to help with your strategic planning. Whether that is done on an individual level or for a whole nonprofit, you can plan better how to capitalize on what you do well and address your shortcomings after completing a SWOT analysis.


No analysis tool is going to be 100 percent successful. After all, they are made to be generic so they apply to as many organizations as possible. If you focus on the details and continue the conversation started by SWOT, you will better utilize the tool and help push your organization forward.

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