A SWOT analysis takes a structured approach that looks at where you are and where you’re headed, based on discernible internal and external factors. Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE will share useful guidelines and exercises you can take back to your team.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Claire, my watch just struck 2:00. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Claire: Let’s do it.

Steven: All right, awesome. Well, good afternoon everyone if you are out on the East Coast and good morning, I should say, if we’re out on the West Coast. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “SWOT’s Up? How to Do a Strategic Self-Audit of Nonprofits Strengths & Weaknesses” and my name is Steven Shattuck, and I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating the discussion as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items before we get going here, just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and we’ll be sending out the slides and the recording later on this afternoon. So if you have to leave early or maybe you get interrupted by a coworker, maybe if your boss wants something urgent, I know how it is, don’t worry, we’ll get you that stuff this afternoon. So just be on the lookout for an email from me with all those goodies.

Most importantly, though, as you are listening, we would love for you to be chatting in your questions and comments throughout the hour. I’m going to keep an eye on those. I’ll also keep an eye on Twitter for those comments because we’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy. We’d love to get to your questions if you have them towards the end. So use that chat box.

And one last bit of housekeeping items. If you have any trouble with your computer audio, we find that the audio by phone is usually a lot better than the computer audio since it doesn’t rely on, you know, internet connections, or browsers, or operating systems, or any of that fun technical stuff. So if you can dial in by phone, that’ll be comfortable for you, give that a try before you totally give up on us. There should be a phone number just for you in the ReadyTalk email that went out about an hour ago. It should also be in your confirmation email, so try if you have any trouble.

And this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to all you first timers with us. We do these webinars pretty much every week throughout the year. We do about 50 sessions every single year. One of our favorite things we do here on Thursday afternoon.

But in addition to that, if you don’t know anything else about Bloomerang, we are also a provider of donor management software. Pretty highly rated. People seem to like it. Maybe you’ll like it too. So check us out if you’re interested in learning more. You can even watch a quick video demo and see us in action. But for now I’m super excited to welcome back a very close friend of the program joining us from beautiful sunny San Francisco, is Claire Axelrad? Hey, Claire, how’s it going? You doing okay?

Claire: I’m doing fine.

Steven: Awesome. It’s good to have you. You’ve done webinars for us. It wouldn’t be a webinar series without Claire. In fact, you do a lot of great content for us. You are our fundraising coach here Bloomerang. If you guys weren’t aware that, she’s been doing really awesome exclusive content for us on our blog, on the webinar series. You can check all that stuff out.

And if you don’t know Claire, you got to know her. She’s awesome. She is the creator of “Clairification,” which is a great blog, newsletter. She’s got some classes on there that you’ll want to check out. She’s been in your shoes. She’s been doing this a long time. She’s got over 30 years of experience of frontline fundraising work. She has been named AFP’s Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the year over the course of her career. She’s also a CFRE instructor, writes for a lot of places, not just Bloomerang. She writes for NonProfitPro, Guidestar, tons of accolades. Always one of my favorite guests that we like to bring on.

And today, she’s going to tell us all about SWOT analyses. And, Claire, I’ve been saying “SWOT’s up?” around the office. I’ve been driving everyone crazy in the past week before that webinar, so I’m glad I can stop annoying people because they want to hear from you. They don’t want to hear from me. So, Claire, I’m going to pass the baton over to you. So tell us all about strengths and weaknesses, my friend.

Claire: Okay. Well, thank you again, everybody, for joining us. I’m really excited to talk about this issue because change is a constant and if you don’t anticipate change and figure out how you’re going to adapt to it, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to remain sustainable over time and to feel like you’re really on top of things. And it’s because you may not have the skills and the resources today that you need to survive and thrive in the future. And the future is not as far away as you think.

So today, we’re going to give you your ticket to become a futurist leader and I’m going to encourage you when you get the slides, when Steven sends them to you, to share this with your team because you can’t really do a SWOT by yourself. You need multiple perspectives. People can’t see their own future. They need a crystal ball. And that’s what your SWOT is. It’s kind of a crystal ball-like framework that helps you to identify trends, to anticipate change, and be open to the possibilities that will enable you to work more effectively and have greater impact.

And let’s face it, it’s very easy to stick with the status quo. It’s crystal ball gazing and designing that is not so easy and SWOTs help leaders do this systematically and strategically. And it’s important to have this framework because we have a lot invested in doing what we’ve always done. It’s just easier and it takes a lot of courage and the determination to ask the hard questions that break us out of old patterns and ruts. And this structured approach can help.

And SWOT is not the only way of doing this kind of analysis, but let me give you a brief history of the SWOT. They go back to the ’60s and that was a time when academics were stressing strategy that that was a process of aligning a business to the outside world. And alignment remains the critical stage in making your SWOT work. So it involves not just identifying your strengths, your weaknesses, your opportunities, and your threats, but also looking for relationships between the internal strengths and weaknesses and the external opportunities and threats. So you want to assure that your input, your strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that you identify are really good before you get to your output, which is translating your SWOT into action and doing the work of trying to figure out the alignment between the inside and the outside world.

So I was going to tell you why to listen to me. I don’t always get such a good introduction as Steven gave me. So I’ll just say here that I really do understand the challenges that you face in your job. I was in the trenches for 30 years. I’ve led teams of development and marketing professionals. We did a lot of SWOT analyses to get where we needed to go. And I’ve also been working with a lot of boards and executive directors to build strategic plans. And some things work better than others.

So today’s takeaways are what a SWOT accomplishes, key elements of a successful SWOT, how to prepare for the SWOT, how to avoid pitfalls, and really important, how to translate your SWOT into action. So just to get a sense of who is on with us today, I’d love it, Steven, if we could launch the first survey so we could find out a little bit more about your SWOT participation experience. So you could say, Have you done these? And it was useful, but no action? It was useful, turned into action. You did one, it was pretty useless. Never done one.

Steven: We got some interesting responses here, Claire. I’m going to bring up the bar graph here. Looks like the winner is that people have done one and it was useful. And it was actionable. So that second option is actually in the lead, which is great. Followed closely by never done one at 33%, and then about a quarter of people, Claire, saying they’ve done one but it didn’t actually turn into anything actionable. Pretty interesting.

Claire: Okay. Well, kudos to you who have done one and found it actionable and for the other three quarters of you are so, I think you’re going to find this especially useful because you will learn how to do it and turn it into action. And I hope those of you who found it actionable, will get some nuggets about how to make it even maybe more useful to you, more specific. So let’s see. Do I close this poll or do you close this poll? Oh, look at that. Okay. So let’s move on.

So you can use a SWOT for multiple purposes depending on your needs. So you can audit a particular area. You can use it as step one of an overall strategic planning process. You can use it to make decisions about what you’re going to prioritize, and you can use it to forecast for a future that’s more sustainable. And you start by assessing the internal factors over which you have some control. Those are your strengths and weaknesses. And then move on to the external factors, which are more outside your ability to determine the opportunities and threats.

So let’s look more closely at the structure of a SWOT. These are the seven elements of a successful SWOT. The SWOT takes a snapshot of one program, one campaign, one division. So you need to select a subject. You need the right people at the table. We want to identify those people. You want to take a 360-degree holistic look at what you’re looking at. Sometimes strengths can masquerade as weaknesses and vice versa. Threats can also be opportunities.

So we’re going to look at some examples. It’s best to use a neutral facilitator and you want to brainstorm as many ideas as you can because this is a very open process at this point. And then once patterns and trends have been identified, it’s time to turn them into actions.

So let’s take these one at a time. So again, you can do a SWOT to assess anything, you just want to keep it focused. And as with anything in the strategic planning realm, you want to begin with your goals. Why are you doing this? What is success going to look like for you in the end?

So, for example, if all you really want is a focused examination of your current or your potential e-newsletter or your blog, you want to know how you could make that better, or make it reach more people, or whatever, then don’t look at your entire marketing communications plan, just to the SWOT for what you want.

So as an example, if you were doing it for that purpose, you might decide, “Oh, well, one of our strengths is that we have more stories than the average bear. We’ve a lot of stories.” But one of your weaknesses is you don’t have enough people who can write. And an opportunity might be that, “Oh, storytelling is really hot right now.” It’s having its moment. People are very receptive to stories.

A threat is that blog popularity right now is waning in favor of video and podcasts. So let’s . . . Here’s a slide for you that I don’t have to read all of it. These are some examples of things that you could do a SWOT for. Some that I particularly like to do is how to integrate your fundraising and your marketing because these tend to be siloed and don’t support one another as well as they could. I also like to just do overall fundraising strategies just to kind of see what you’re really strong and what you’re weak in, what you should prioritize based on what’s going on in the marketplace. Also like to do integration of online and offline fundraising and/or marketing.

Another really useful SWOT is board understanding and embrace of their roles and their responsibilities. And another one I really like to do is volunteer opportunities. Looking at what are you doing in terms of recruitment, orientation of your volunteers, recognition of your volunteers, and especially as this relate to cultivating, acquiring, and stewarding donors. Because I find that a lot of times people aren’t able to do as an effective job as they would like with retaining donors or attracting new ones because they don’t really have any volunteer opportunities for them.

So once you’ve decided what you’re going to evaluate, then you move on to identifying the key stakeholders. And here’s another one for you, Steven, put together your SWOT team. So there’s no point in doing a SWOT with people who have the same perspective as you have. Different perspectives are your friends. And it’s a little bit like that parable of the elephant where depending on which part you touch, you view it differently.

So you really want to watch out for the SWOT where only executive management are invited and lower and middle managers or frontline employees or excluded. You really want to think, “Who cares a lot about this? Who has information to share? Who has expertise upon which can draw?” And then you want to try to make the most of your time by asking these stakeholders you’ve identified to do a little homework by maybe sending them a survey in advance of the in-person brainstorming and evaluating session to get them thinking.

And here’s an example of a simple survey that was created for free on Survey Monkey. This is Joliet Junior College. And this just shows their first question, which is listing the five strengths and it gives them a brief description of what strengths are so they can fill out the questions. So, of course, you can ask questions for all of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. And let’s look more closely at these.

So the first are your internal factors. So it’s kind of like there’s two sides of a wall. On one side or the strengths than weaknesses over what you have control and some of the things that you have internally are strong, others are crumbling. On the other side of the wall, you see less ability to control. But you still want to take a look because you’re going to want to distinguish between where you are today and where you could be in the future.

So today things are internal, tomorrow things are external. And this takes a little practice. So I want to have you think about these two examples and we’re going to launch a survey so you can assess what you think. Example number one is, is this a strength, a weakness, an opportunity, or a threat? You’re an environmental organization and people are increasingly concerned about climate change.

Steven: It looks like opportunity is running away with it, Claire.

Claire: I see that.

Steven: Some people are saying strength too, which make sense to me.

Claire: Yeah. So that’s interesting and that’s great. You guys are great. It’s not an internal strength. The fact that you’re an environmental agent or organization is what’s internal, but it’s external that people are increasingly concerned about climate change. So you can take the fact that what you do, your strength is now increasingly relevant to people and leverage that. So we want to do the same poll now for example number two, which is our government funding is being cut for this particular program. Is that a weakness, a strength, an opportunity, or a threat?

Steven: Looks like most people are saying threat, Claire.

Claire: Yeah. Okay. So again, I mean, a lot of times people will pick this as an internal weakness because, “Oh, gosh,” you know, “We’re going to have less grants.” That’s a weakness, but that’s not. And that’s not something you have control over, really. So the fact that funding is being cut is a threat and you want to figure out, well, what can we do to take our strength, all of the things you’re good at and use them to sort of overcome this threat?

So you begin by assessing your internal factors and see . . . Where did the slides go? Here they are. And you say, “What are our strengths related to this focus?” And really what you want to do here on the brainstorming is look under every rock. Like what do you do really well? What is the advantage you have over others? What’s your secret sauce? You want to be realistic, and honest, and you want to kind of figure out all of these strengths because they’re going to also lead you to weaknesses.

So besides asking these questions here on the screen, I like to sort of take a reporter’s approach to this and ask the basic who, what, when, where, why. So often people will say something like, “We have strong communication.” And that’s not going to really get you anywhere unless you ask who makes your communication strong. You know, maybe it’s a really stellar staff person who writes really well, or whatever, but they’re going to be leaving in a month. So then that same strength could be a weakness.

How is this greatness manifest? What about your communications is great and what is maybe not so great? Again, the strengths leads you to the weaknesses. Is when you send your communications of strength? Maybe you send them only once a year. Maybe that’s a strength if 90% of your people, they only message just once a year. But it could also be a weakness.

Where you send them, maybe you just send them via snail mail. And maybe that’s a strength because maybe all of your constituents are not on social media, but it could also be a weakness.

Why you send them, is that a strength or weakness? Are you sending them to raise awareness or to ask for money? And is that a strength or a weakness? And it can be both. And later, you’re going to see how external threats might jeopardize the way you communicate, which could then turn your strength into a weakness if you don’t leverage that strength in a way that mitigates against the threat. And you might see, oh, there’s some great opportunities in that . . . communication opportunities that we could take greater advantage of.

So I want to look at this idea that sometimes the weakness may masquerade as a threat and just look at a few examples, taking this reporter’s question of who to see how it might be one or the other. So looking at your staff, maybe you’ve got a membership coordinator whose rock direct mail for the past 15 years. So they’re really strong, but they have little experience with digital donor acquisition. One’s a strength, one’s a weakness.

Or you might have a director of development who is the wiz at building major gift relationship, but they’re a core over all strategists and manager and they know very little about marketing communications. One’s a strength, the other’s a weakness. And you’re going to be hearing me say this a lot, but you want to leverage your strengths and overcome your weaknesses. And that comes later when you need to turn the SWOT into action, but you can’t leverage and overcome until you isolate it and determine what those truths are for your organization, or your division, or your department.

Let’s say you’re looking at your board member as a who and you’ve got a board with a really positive attitude, and that’s a strength. But the fact that they’ve got homogenous skills and networks might be a weakness. One way that a strength and a weakness might be come from the same thing is let’s say your board members have a lot of longevity. Loyalty is great. Continuing to get their top philanthropic gift is great strength but not so great is that this longevity is causing a lack of turnover, it’s not making room for new leaders, it’s not bringing in potential new major givers, not getting fresh perspective. So that’s a weakness.

And finally, let’s look at the ED. Maybe you’ve got a highly regarded artistic director, or a scientist, or a lawyer, or a doctor, a social worker, or a priest, or founder of some sort at the helm. And they’re great at building program. They’re great at finding talented staff. They live and breathe the mission. So those are strengths, strengths, strengths. At the same time, the same person might not have a clue how to build a board, how to orient a board, and how to sustain the type of board needed to raise philanthropy and steward donors over time. So those would be weaknesses in the same person.

All right, so you’ve assessed your strengths, now you continue with asking what your weaknesses are. And again, be specific about what your shortcomings are. The fact that no one opens your newsletter is not it in and of itself, it’s the because. It’s because when they do, you know, all they find is a bunch of useless roots from their perspective versus a nice juicy carrot. Something that they can use.

So you’re digging really deep and you’re asking like where do other organizations have advantage over us? Do they have more stories? Do they have better technology? Do they have better writers? Where might we be weak? Why is this an area of weakness? For example, one thing I hear a lot that people say as a weakness is people don’t know we exist. Again, not specific enough. Which specific people don’t know that you exist? Maybe some people do, but a whole other demographic doesn’t. And maybe they know you exist, but they don’t know about the depth and breadth of the services that you offer. So you don’t want to be general when you’re unearthing these qualities.

So you want to get to the root of why they don’t know you. You know, is it your poor social media strategy or is it some other internal weakness or is it a threat? Is it that you’re one of nine organizations serving the homeless in your community and folks can’t tell one from the other? You can’t control how many other homeless organizations are out there, but that may be impacting you.

So let’s look more closely at these external factors. So now we’re on the other side of the wall. So things that are more outside your ability to control and the opportunities may offer potential for you to grow and the threats might cause you problems. So you begin with the opportunities and you think, “Well, what could be helpful to me in the outside environment?”

And opportunities and threats can come from two outside places, within your organization, but outside your leadership and management purview or outside your organization. And again, this is the reason it might be really useful to add some outsiders of some shape or form to your SWOT team, because when you sit inside your organization or your department or division, it’s really difficult to assess what’s going on outside your door. So as an example, let’s say it’s something like your reputation. Everybody in your group might know that your reputation is really great with clients because that’s what you hear day in and day out. But you may be unaware it’s not so good with potential supporters or vice versa.

So let’s look more closely at the difference between the two outside places that you can look. So one is the ones within your organization, but outside your purview. So let’s say you’ve expanded geographically. That’s something that your organization did. That is an opportunity because you’ve got a new territory now from which to acquire donors.

Let’s say you’ve added new volunteer opportunities. Again, that’s not your department, but it happened and now you’ve got new ways to cultivate and steward donors.

Let’s say you’ve revamped your database. Now you’ve got a better way to get your message out. Now, maybe you can make donation landing pages more user friendly.

Let’s say you’ve integrated all your databases. Again, this was not your decision, but that it’s happened and now it’s an opportunity because you’ve got a better way to track, and report, and segment, and get a 360-degree view of your donors and prospects.

You’ve added new marketing staff. Now you might be able to add donor communications that you didn’t have the bandwidth to do before. Or your organization added a whole new appealing program, so now you have a new fundraising case for support.

Opportunities outside your organization are things like your issue is suddenly in the news. Okay, this is an opportunity, now your mission’s going to really stay relevant to people. Let’s lead with those things that are in the news.

You’ve recently received some good press, okay. Now you’ve got the ability to use social proof, testimonial that is not just you saying all these things you’re doing are useful and needed, but it’s somebody else. So how are you going to use that?

The economic outlook is strong. You have nothing to do with that, but now you feel more confident about asking your current donors to increase their gifts. So are you going to take off the opportunity to do that?

Similar organizations are closing their doors. Okay, that’s an opportunity for you to showcase why your continued existence is more important than ever.

A new business has come to town. It’s an opportunity. You could be the first in town to approach them as a new funder.

Recent legislation has had a favorable impact. This could be legislation that impacts the constituency you serve, it could be tax legislation, but you want to be able to sort of address what people are thinking about this legislation. Maybe show how you’re going to be able to do even more good or your donor is going to be able to do more good.

So after you look at the opportunity, it’s time to ask, “What are our threats?” You’re still looking outside the door, but these are kind of red doors. These are really going to cause you problems. And again, you look into outside places. And this time, what I want to do is just show you an example of one organization with whom I’ve worked, Opportunity Fund, that turned threat assessment into part of their strategic business plan.

So just a little background on them. They provide small, low interest business loans to folks who are trying to get a start in life and provide for their families. So they tend to give a lot of food trucks, women-owned businesses, and they work with a lot of financial institutions and impact investors to offer clients access to capital that would otherwise be impossible. So what’s going on in this economy has a huge impact on their mission.

And you’re not going to be able to read and digest this whole thing, that’s why you’re getting the slides later, but I wanted to just leave you with this example and just mention that threats tend to boil down a lot to risk and competition. And risks include financial considerations such as what’s the thing that you need cost, whether the economy is soaring, or sinking, or status quo, what consumer confidence is, what the funding landscape looks like for you, and what the employment landscape looks like for you.

The other types of risks are changing demographics that might impact who supports you or, you know, who you’ve got his supporters and changing laws and policy. And then competition, of course, is other organizations that are doing similar things to you, but maybe they’ve got more name recognition or they’ve got lower prices and kind of better reputation. Or other organizations and businesses that are competing for potential supporter attention and more and more, that includes places like Amazon, you know, you know that there’s just a lot of competition for attention. So thinking about those things.

And now I want to get to the fifth key element, which is using a trained outside neutral facilitator. And as tempting as it is to use an internal person to save money, it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish. It doesn’t really matter if your organizations counts tons of trained facilitators among your rank, SWOTs are subjective enough and you really need a neutral party to help you see the forest for the trees and avoid your blind spot.

And I worked for many, many years with a comprehensive social services agency and there were a lot of trained facilitators. And so, there was always this pressure to just use one of them. But be really careful with that. An outside neutral facilitator can really help you tease out specifics by asking questions like, “Why is that a strength?” Which if you have an internal person, people might take that defensively.

They should ask, “How do you know this is a strength? Who specifically counts this as a strength? Could this be a weakness for others? Wouldn’t this be among the top three things you believe makes your organization, or your department, or this strategy successful?” Because you’re really trying to, at the end, prioritize and really think about using the strengths that are your really core ones and mitigating against your top weaknesses, etc. And you also then want to ask, you know, does everybody else agree? Would you list this as a top strength, for example?

And then finally, most important is that every culture has its taboo, things that no one will bring up. And an outsider can ask, “Are there any elephants in the room?” So a neutral facilitator assures that a top manager is not going to suppress honest participation by their subordinates. It should be an opportunity to hear from everyone and take multiple viewpoints into account.

And then you want to brainstorm as many ideas as you can because what you’re trying to do here is surface key issues and identify patterns and trends. So you want to group all the responses into categories and sometimes you might even find you’re moving stickies back and forth and decide, “No, that’s not actually so much of a strength, that’s an opportunity. Or it’s not really a strength, it’s a weakness, or gee, it’s both. Let’s write up another sticky and put it in both places.”

And then what you want to do, it’s kind of rank-order them. So I prefer working with the top four in each category, ultimately, before trying to turn the SWOT into action. You can have more or less, you know, if, if it turns out, whoa, there’s three that are just everybody agrees and then, you know, a few of them just have two votes, then go with three. If you have five that have a lot of votes, go with that.

And just for some help in figuring out the difference between what’s a strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat, you might want to download this free Strategic Nonprofit SWOT Analysis Guide that Bloomerang and I co-created. You should be able to click right from the slide when you get it. And if not, I’m sure that Steven, will send you the link.

Okay. Translating your SWOT into action. So this is really important. And too often, nonprofits stop after the brainstorming as if merely identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is an end in and of itself. And it’s not, it’s a means to an end. And that end is your strategic plan. And whether it’s a comprehensive fundraising and marketing plan, or a digital fundraising plan, or a major gift plan, or donor acquisition, or a donor stewardship plan, or even an organization-wide strategic plan, all of that brainstorming has to translate into actions that are based on each of the categories you identified.

And if you find that you have too many ideas, that’s your clue to break this into smaller plans. You might have a strategic plan for different campaigns or different areas.

So I want to show you what I mean by translating the SWOT into action. So it’s kind of like you’re now at the plate and you’ve got your bat in your hand and you’ve got your balls all lined up and some are going to be strengths opportunities balls, some opportunities weakness balls, some are strengths threat, and some are threat weakness. So SWOT analysis kind of got in the game and now it’s time to play.

So the first box is the strengths opportunities where you want to pursue opportunities that are a good fit to your strengths. The second is the opportunities weaknesses where you want to overcome your to pursue your opportunity. And third is strengths threats. You’re identifying ways to maintain, build, or leverage your strengths to reduce your vulnerability to encounter external threats. And finally, the threat weakness where you’re planning defensively, you want to counter the threat by overcoming the weaknesses.

So to get really practical about this, some of you may be familiar with the marketing planning matrix and you might be interested to know how closely the SWOT matrix aligns with this traditional strategic planning model. They’re not identical, but I find it very useful to take a look at how one can translate to the other for planning purposes. This has been a really useful framework for me, so I’m going to share it with you.

But this is the marketing matrix. You can see the boxes look the same. And basically, you look at your existing products and your potential products. And think of products in terms of a campaign or a strategy. And then you look at your existing and your potential market. So everything that’s in the market penetration box is basically taking whatever existing product you have to your existing markets. Clearly, that’s the easiest thing to do and the least resource-intensive.

Then you have market expansion and product expansion. Market expansion, you take your existing products and roll it out to potential markets. Product expansion, you take your existing market and roll out a new product. And those two are kind of equal in terms of they take more resources than penetration, but reasonable. And then there’s diversification, which is you take a brand new product, a brand new campaign that you’ve never done before and you roll it out to a brand new market.

So unfortunately, in practice . . . and I would love to be able to see your raise of hands as to how often that happened, is that when you get people together in committee or in a board group or whatever, and they brainstorm, they tend to go to new new ideas, to diversification. They say, “We’ve got a lot of Millennials now, we need more Millennials. So let’s have a beer bash.” And voila, here you are. Before you know it, you’ve 10 new new strategies and two or three other ones. And you end up burning out and taking too many risks.

So SWOT is not an exercise in brainstorming potential new new strategies? You don’t want to say, “Oh, we need this. We need a lot of new strategies, so let’s have a SWOT.” A SWOT is a structural framework to help you approach your mix of strategy strategically so you don’t simply get stuck where you are in penetration mode, but you also avoid taking on too many unnecessary risks, too much diversification.

So want to look more closely at this framework with the marketing matrix super imposed on the SWOT matrix. So let’s look at this first box here. The market penetration box parallels with strength opportunity box where you are maintaining, building, or leveraging on a strength to prioritize or optimize an opportunity. Again, generally, the easiest least resource-intensive thing to do and the most manageable. Plus, you’re starting with all positives. In marketing, parlance, you’re taking existing products, promoting them more robustly to existing markets. You’re taking what you’re already good at and pursuing opportunities that enable you to take what you’re already good at to the next level.

So for fundraising purposes, as an example of this, let’s say you have a very strong successful email appeal. That’s a strength. You might want to seize the opportunity of new markets being out there. I mean, of . . . Sorry. Seize the opportunity that you’ve got a new robust email provider that makes it easier for you to automate these and send them more frequently to send them more frequently to your existing mailing list. I hope that makes sense.

Okay. Onto the next box, which is the market expansion box and that parallels the opportunity weaknesses box. So you’re wanting to present, or remedy, or overcome a weakness to pursue, or prioritize, or optimize on an opportunity. Again, it takes greater resources to expand your reach outside your current universe. But the fact that you’re overlooking this potentially rich constituency, maybe you’ve got all sorts of people hidden in your database that are connected to you, but you’re just not reaching out to them. That’s kind of a weakness that you have the opportunity to overcome.

So for fundraising purposes, let’s go back to this strong e-appeal and maybe you’ve got all these unused mailing lists. You know, you’ve got clients, or members, or parents or whatever you’ve got and you want to secure access to these current mailing lists. Maybe they’re volunteers, maybe they’re event attendees, or relatives of people. Get access to those lists and maybe you’ve got a new opportunity to do that because you’ve had a recent database integration or maybe you’ve got a new staffer on board who’s open to collaborating with you. So that’s a big plus. So you want to, you know, take your existing plus product, and the minus here really is that it takes some resources to get these new names, to input the data. But, you know, if you see new market potential that you’re not using, that might really be worthwhile.

The next box is the product expansion which parallels strengths and threats. Again, it takes more resources to build a new product or build a new strategy, but it’s a way to leverage the strength of those markets who already engage with you and make sure you’re not leaving money on the table by allowing a threat, a competitor to jump in and offer something similar in your stead.

So for fundraising purposes again, you had a strong successful email appeal, now what you want to do is add new theories of appeals that maybe showcase more the depth and breadth of what you do and defend against the threats that other organizations are going to fill that space. So you go right out to your existing market, but you say, “Hey, you knew about our seniors program but maybe you didn’t know about our children’s program.”

And again, one of the big threats these days is just how saturated the digital marketplace has become and how hard it is to capture attention. So, you know, if you have some terrific video stories on your website and not enough people are seeing them, you might build a blog with video links that you can serve up in your e-newsletter or your blog and share those stories more proactively with your current market.

So let’s look at the next box. Okay, this is diversification, parallels threats weaknesses. Most resource intense strategy, the one you want to do the least of, so you really want to evaluate the cost benefit for and ensure it’s a manageable strategy. You’re building a brand new product in marketing parlance to take to a brand new market. Or in SWOT parlance, you’re taking what you’re not currently good at or weakness and figuring out how to overcome that to defend against new marketplace threats.

So back to the fundraising example, now you’re going to add a new product to your strong email appeal because maybe changing demographics is a threat and it might be time to reach a younger market that would like a different fundraising strategy better. And the fact that you do very little on social media right now is a weakness. So you might decide, “Okay, let’s do Facebook fundraising.” That might work like gangbusters, but it’s a bit of a shot in the dark because all you know right now is the purple lady because all of your constituents on the previous slide were the purple ladies and you don’t even know she likes Facebook, let alone all these other people, which you don’t know anything about at all.

So just to consolidate this, I want to just give you this slide where we put all of the matrices together and remind you that the diversification one, it’s the hardest one. And I give you this because I think turning this one into action is the hardest part and I’m really hopeful that this will help you with this. And so that’s why I spent time with you and tried to give you some examples.

And so, now let’s go back to the earlier slide, which I hope maybe makes a little bit more sense now where you’ve got the green light strategies, which are your plus pluses, those that leverage strengths to pursue opportunities. That’s what you can do really easily. The yellow light strategies are those that leverage your strengths to counter threats, which are plus and minus. Those that overcome weaknesses to pursue opportunities which are plus minuses. And then the red light strategies, which I’m not saying you shouldn’t do, but they are the most work and those are the ones that overcome your weaknesses to counter threats. So there are two minuses.

And if you have questions on this, that’s where we’re headed, to Q&A, but first, just a brief summary of the key takeaways. That your SWOT is really only as good as its leader, so you really want to decide on who’s going to facilitate. It’s only as good as its participants, so you want to spend some upfront time deciding on your SWOT team. And then it’s only as good as the honesty and the focus insight that goes into it, so you really want, again . . . and that’s why a facilitator is so important because they help you get specific, dig deep, get to the roots of the problem, and ask those reportorial questions of who, what, when, where, why, how.

And then you want to build in time to translate it into action because it’s really only worthwhile if that happens. Otherwise, it’s just a fun exercise and you all walk away kind of feeling, “Oh, well, that was good, that was useful.” And you feel that way for about two days or a week and then nothing really happens with it. So I hope you’re all ready to go do some crystal ball gazing at your organization. And before I send you off for questions, I want to send you off with a big virtual pat on the back for being here today, doing this important work, making our world a better, more caring place, and having the courage to want to work not just hard, but smart. And SWOTs are really for smarties. So, Steven, thank you for having me. Do we have any questions?

Steven: Oh, we do, but we owe you the thanks, not me. Thanks for being here and sharing all this knowledge. This is really cool. I’ve never had a deep dive into this topic before, so I was just sitting here learning a lot myself. I really enjoyed it. And I think a lot of folks who are listening also did too. So thank you. Thank you for this, Claire.

We do have questions and those folks who haven’t asked questions yet, please do. We probably got about maybe eight minutes, seven or eight minutes before the 3:00 hour here. So I’m going to just roll through it right now, Claire. We got some cool questions here. Here’s one from . . . I’m actually going to keep the questioners anonymous just in case there’s some sensitive things going on. But this first one comes from someone who works at a small nonprofit, which most of our listeners tend to be at, Claire. “I’m wondering if it would be doable or useful to do a SWOT analysis covering programs, fundraising, marketing the board.” Claire, I know you had a slide on this, but is there any topic that is not appropriate for a SWOT analysis or can it really cover anything that’s going on at your organization?

Claire: It really can cover anything that you can think of. I mean, you could do a SWOT for your family’s schedule. You know, like what’s wrong about our family? You have a family meeting and say, what’s good about this and what’s not good about this and what are some opportunities? And you could think, oh, well some of the neighbors could do some carpooling with us. You know, I mean, anything really that you can think of.

And so, the brainstorming is really helpful because sometimes you just have strengths but you’re not really leveraging like some of the stuff that you’re really good at, you’re kind of carrying under a bushel. And then some of the things that you’re really weak at, you’re just tolerating. You’re living with it and you’re not really thinking about how can we overcome this? Like, you know, maybe this is something that we really need to get some thought to. We don’t have to suffer so much.

And then, again, there are opportunities galore that you’re not taking advantage of, which is just a shame. And I find that a lot. That a lot of organizations have money that they’re leaving on the table because they’re not taking advantage of opportunities that are staring them right in the face. And two really common ones are having people in your database that are clearly connected to you, they clearly have an interest in what you do, but you’re just not getting around to them. You’re not targeting them. So instead, you’re going out and you’re doing donor acquisition mailing with brand new kind of cold prospects instead of taking advantage of what you’ve got already.

So again, SWOTs help you work really smart, not just hard. You know, you can be doing lots of work and feeling like you’re very busy. It’s not always the smartest way to go. And that’s why a SWOT is kind of the first step to a strategic plan. So a lot of times what you might do, let’s say you’re going to do a strategic plan for the entire organization. You might have, in the year before that strategic plan, sit down. You might have different departments or different groups, constituencies within your organization get together separately to do their own SWOT. So a program staff might do a SWOT. Development and marketing staff might do a SWOT. The board might do a SWOT.

And what you want to do is take the results from all of these, give it to a facilitator, and they will put all of this together and send that out as background for what will be the big organization-wide strategic planning retreat and you’ll be working on all of those key things that had been surfaced from all of these key stakeholders throughout. So, again, the SWOT is the pre-strategic plan phase. I hope that made sense.

Steven: Absolutely. And you brought up the facilitator. We’ve got a question specifically about the facilitators. So unique situation, and I think you’re really deep into this one, Claire. New organization, they have an interim board of directors who will eventually be replaced with, you know, the actual board who will handle strategic planning. But one of those current interim board members is, in fact, an experienced facilitator and they’re also a retired ED with another kind of local nonprofit in the area. So this person that is a interim board member has facilitation experience and did offer to help with the SWOT process. Do you think that person is not impartial enough, Claire? Because I think that was one piece of your advice, right? That you want that kind of . . . that third-party person. But what do you think about that?

Claire: It’s hard for me to know since I don’t know this organization and the genesis of the organization. You know, the idea that there’s an interim board and they’re not going to be the final board is not clear to me. You know, what you really don’t want, is you don’t want a facilitator who has a vested interest in the outcome. So if this person on the interim board is like best buddies with the founder, they may have a vested interest. They may want it to go in a certain direction. And you don’t want the facilitator to have any preconceived notions of where this is going.

Steve: Makes sense. And that just overrides everything else. Yeah. Got it. Here’s one I really like. Claire, what do you . . . do you think the people who are actually participating in the session, is there any value or if there’s any maybe scenarios you can think of where they could or should remain anonymous? In other words, do you think that if they were anonymous they would maybe be a little bit more forthcoming about what they think, perhaps, strengths and weaknesses are? Or is this always something that is in-person, you know, super transparent and everyone knows what everyone else was saying. What do you think about that?

Claire: Well, that’s the reason you want a trained neutral facilitator and you’d start out with the ground rules of the meeting and that it’s a safe space and that, you know, nothing is off the table. And then they asked the thing, “What are the elephants in the room?” I think that a way to get around, I mean, usually, the people who want to be anonymous, they’re afraid of saying something to the big Kahuna, the big leader. And in that case . . . I mean, if you’ve got a really good process going and a really good facilitators, they’ll come in first, they’ll meet with you and they might, you know, meet with some of the key players and they will probably hear this. And so, they might suggest that that the participants in this SWOT not include the big Kahuna.

And, you know, so that’s why, again, choosing your SWOT team is an important step because if you’ve got somebody there on the team that’s going to kill participation, there’s no point in doing it. So it’s almost like, you know, the facilitators says to the big Kahuna, “We’re going to have this meeting and then we’re going to bring back all the results to you and, you know, in order to make it just like a really free open process” that, you know, I find it’s best to not have the big boss there.

Steven: I like it.

Claire: And usually people will be fine with that.

Steven: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Well, we’ve got a couple other questions I told her to get to. Since we’ve been talking so into the facilitator, Claire, any tips for finding that impartial facilitator?

Claire: Well, I would, yeah. I mean, you know, you can always go on organizations like your local AFP Association for Fundraising Professionals chapter to look for consultants. You can just honestly search for, you know, strategic planning facilitators, nonprofit facilitators, and I would also call around and ask other organizations in town who they’ve used and, you know, get references. That’s how I tend to find my best people. It’s just word of mouth.

Steven. Yeah. I love it. Here’s maybe a good question to end on, Claire, since we’re a little over 3:00 now. You know, you talked about there’s no bad topic. How do you prioritize the topics, though, in terms of importance? And, you know, maybe you’ve got a couple of things, maybe a few things you want to analyze. How do you choose the most pressing issue to do the analysis on?

Claire: I think that you usually know, but, you know . . . I mean, you usually know. You usually know. I mean, you’re hearing it from everybody. You’re hearing it from your boss, you’re hearing it from your board. It’s like, you know, why don’t we do more social media? Or, you know, why don’t we reach out to Millennials? And I think partly what you decide as a leader in your role is, “Okay, let me dig deep into what are they saying.”

Again, you have to use those reporter questions all the time in your work. So, you know, you want to ask them . . . You want to ask yourself, okay, “Why are they asking me this? Why are they talking about social media? Like do they think we’re not competitive with other organizations? Or, you know, just because they love social media or is it,” you know, “where is it coming from? And then what does it relate to?” So, you might decide to do a SWOT on your social media, but you might decide, “No, it’s not really just that, it’s all of our online, all of our digital communications.” That’s an area where, you know, is an area of growth for us.

Or you might decide, “Gee, what we really need to do is a brand new fundraising plan. You know, where we, you know, we’ve been doing the same campaign, same strategies for the past 10 years. Every year we take out our plan and we just kind of mark it up a little bit, tweak it a little bit, maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at the whole campaign.”

And then what comes out is, you know, you’ve got a whole bunch of strengths and you’re not going to stop doing those things, but you also have some weaknesses. Like gee, your direct mail donor acquisition that used to get a 2% return is only getting a 0.3% return. Maybe that’s not your best strategy, maybe you could take those same resources and go out to digital donor acquisition.

So then you’ve got a reason for doing it or maybe a reason not for doing it as opposed to just you don’t want to go to the solutions first. So it’s like we should do more digital fundraising. That’s a solution. You know, we really want to kind of like start with, okay, let’s look at all of our ways of communicating and let’s do a SWOT on that and then see where it takes us as to what we should do next.

Steven: Make sense. So, you know, trust your gut but dig in at the same time, try to find that root cause and listen for those kind of [heat seeker 01:04:02]. That’s what we call them at Bloomerang, internally, heat seeker issues that we want to really take care of their pricing. Makes a lot of sense. This is great. This is awesome, Claire. I know there’s a lot of questions we didn’t get to, but do you mind taking some questions by email? I know you’re active on Twitter as well. Is that cool with you, Claire?

Claire: I’m happy to do that.

Steven: I knew you’d say. You’re an awesome person. So thank you. This was a lot of fun. I learned a lot. I think a lot of the participants did as well. And I’m seeing things like, “Best session ever,” and “Awesome.” That always makes me happy to see that. So thank you to all of you who listened along too. Yeah, I love it. It’s usually a pretty positive crowd on this webinar.

Claire: And I would just want to say, Steven said some nice things about me and I would like to say, if you’re in the market for a new fundraising database, take a look at Bloomerang. I don’t recommend a lot, but I make an exception here because they are so informed by smart research, and fundraising, and marketing communications smart, and it’s all wrapped into their database and the support that they offer you. So while you’re thinking strategically, think smart about your database too.

Steven: Ah, thank you for that. That was very nice. Well, it’s people like you to make it possible for us to do that, so we love it. Well, we’ll call it a day there. I know we went a little over time. Sorry about that, but there was just too much good stuff. If you didn’t catch that free downloadable that Claire talked about, that’s the SWOT e-book. You got something to say about that, Claire? That was a great one, by the way.

Claire: I just want to leave everybody with this quote that I love from Helen Keller, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.” So I hope that you will go forth from today feeling enabled to better figure out and articulate your vision and also feeling the privilege that comes from being able to share that vision with other likeminded people who really make a difference in your community, in the world, or even in just one person’s life. Thank you so much for doing this work.

Steven: You nailed it. Can’t say anything more, that’s great. Well, thank you Claire, and thank you to all of you for hanging out with us about an hour here. It was a lot of fun. If you got time next week, same time, same place we’ve got Tom Ahern joining us. We’re bringing up the heavy hitters. You got Claire and then Tom. This is a nice couple of weeks of webinars. He’s got a really fun presentation. It’s a new presentation. He just wrote a-book on this topic. There’s a lot of fun and it’s all about kind of convincing your boss, maybe your ED, your board members to do something, try something new, change course, cancel on events, things like that.

So join us if that is a topic that you struggle with. Who among us hasn’t never struggled with that? I think all of you can work something there. Even the bosses that are listening, we’d love to have you there as well. Join us same time same place next week at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. We got a lot of other webinars that you can register for as well. Just check out our webinar page. Download that e-book that we mentioned from Claire and look out for an email from me with the slides and the recording. I’ll be sending that out later today.

So we’ll call it a day there. Have a good rest of your Thursday. If you’re out in the Midwest with those storms, please stay safe. We’re thinking about you. Hopefully, we get through the season unarmed, but be careful out there. Have a good weekend, and we will hopefully talk to you again next week. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.