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How Nonprofits Can Use A SWOT Analysis

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When done correctly, a SWOT Analysis can be a powerful tool in your nonprofit’s strategic toolbox, but what exactly is it?

A SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool that dives into your organization’s internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats. The elements of your SWOT (if done effectively) should form the core of your organization’s strategic plan.

Here’s a breakdown of what SWOT stands for:

Strengths – internal characteristics of your nonprofit that give it an advantage over others

Weaknesses – internal characteristics of your nonprofit that give it a disadvantage compared to others

Opportunities – external elements that your nonprofit could use to its advantage (this could also even be done at a program level)

Threats – external elements in the environment that could cause trouble for your nonprofit

Why is this important?

A SWOT analysis should give your organization confidence and a better idea of what strategic direction to go in, as well as an idea of what issues will need to be dealt with. This strategic planning tool should be used to empower your nonprofit and make you more sustainable. Leverage your organization’s strengths and opportunities, and learn from and prepare for weaknesses and threats. The most important thing to remember when drafting out your SWOT is to dive deep. Don’t be too general in your answers, and be sure to involve multiple people at your organization in the process. This analysis should not be a solo exercise. Different perspectives can be enlightening. If you really want to set your organization up for success, you’ll be as honest as possible during this process.

If you’re starting a new nonprofit, a SWOT should be done in the early planning stages once you have the idea and mission down, but it can also be beneficial to do if you’re already established and want to evaluate any changes or pivots you’ve made or are planning to make.


Here’s a Brief Example of a SWOT Analysis

Org name: People against Human Trafficking


Internal Factors


  • Only organization in the area that provides these type of services = no direct competition
  • Passionate volunteer and donor base (albeit small)
    • Could use them for positive word of mouth and promotion
  • Valuable services provided
    • Show impact better
  • Clear vision and long history associated with the mission
    • Our origin story is personal to our Executive Director and is a emotional story to help draw in interest. The ED has been advocating against human trafficking before it became more widely-known.


  • Small volunteer base
    • Solution: Reach out to qualified younger demographic (30 – 50 years old) to help out with weekend rehabilitation programming

External Factors



  • We’ve impacted a lot of people
    • They can be the inspiration in some marketing materials. Garner video and written testimonials when we can. Their stories can help educate our community.
  • Sent a survey and found out that a lot of women in the community are passionate about our cause.
    • Focus on targeting 30 – 60 year old women for volunteering and donations.



  • Can be hard to measure impact of certain programs
    • Figure out what impact makes the most sense to measure and communicate
  • Cash flow / external costs
    • Solution: cut events that don’t perform as well to save on some cost. Confer with finance.
  • Society/community isn’t as familiar with or comfortable talking about human trafficking
    • Solution: Work on low-cost materials, programs, and events that can help educate the public


Answer these questions to make your analysis even stronger:

Once you’ve filled out the high level points of each quadrant, dive in more. Don’t leave any stone unturned. What is the cause of each strength, weakness, opportunity, or threat? What is influencing each point? Are there any discrepancies between any of the points or any of the people involved in the process? If so, why?

Pro tip: As evidenced by some of the bullet points in the sample above, it can be a good idea to go through each point and map out a solution for weaknesses or threats, as well as include more ideas to make a strength or opportunity really come to life and be an even bigger asset.

The next step is for you to actually get started. Bring in your team and pull together your ideas. Don’t be afraid to include volunteers and donors in this process. As with any strategic planning process, the SWOT analysis is all about self-discovery for your nonprofit.

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  • Vanessa Hamilton

    "Just make sure that everyone comes to a consensus on each point." I understand that consensus increases the likelihood of implementation and success, however how feasible and practical is it?
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