nonprofit swot analyses

You’ve got questions about nonprofit SWOT analyses; we’ve got answers!

Specifically, these are questions we didn’t have time to answer in a webinar I recently presented for Bloomerang: “SWOT’s Up? How to Do a Strategic Self-Audit of Nonprofit Strengths & Weaknesses.”

In the webinar, we covered

  • What a SWOT accomplishes
  • Key elements of a successful SWOT
  • How to prepare for a SWOT
  • How to avoid pitfalls
  • How to translate a SWOT into action

If you want to learn more on this subject, please download our free Strategic Nonprofit Analysis e-guide.

Now… on to your questions!


I am conducting a SWOT analysis for my development team, which is comprised of both marketing and fundraising staff. Is doing a SWOT analysis on our team itself too vague?


You can do a SWOT for anything. To determine whether your subject for analysis make sense, begin by asking yourself what your goal is: “WHY are we doing this? What will success look like?” Once you answer this first “reporter’s question” (i.e., Why, Who, What, When, Where, How), you then ask the next logical question. The answer to each question modifies, and clarifies, the answer to the previous question. It might go something like this:

1. WHY do we want to conduct a SWOT of our development team? PERHAPS… “We want to improve the way the team works together.”


2. WHO do we want to target for improvement? PERHAPS… “We want marketing staff and development staff to better understand and support each other’s roles.”


3. WHAT do we want to explore? PERHAPS… “We want to assess what’s working/not working in our internal team communication” or “We want to assess what’s working/not working with our current mix of fundraising and marketing strategies, based on how the team works together and/or independently.”


4. WHEN do we think problems tend to arise? PERHAPS… “We want to look at the bottlenecks that prevent a smooth workflow” or “We want to look at areas of friction between marketing and development staff (or internal and external staff; senior and mid-level of support staff).”


5. WHERE do we think areas of friction are most likely to manifest? PERHAPS… “We want to look at how team members are held accountable” or “We want to clarify where the buck stops for particular projects.”


6. HOW do we think team functioning is most helped/hampered? PERHAPS… “We want to shine a light on the internal/external factors that contribute to our ability to perform at the highest level.”

Each of these questions, when addressed, will lead you to identification of S, W, O, and T related to these areas of inquiry. By asking the questions, you can hone the purpose of your SWOT so it is anything but vague.


How do you get your supervisor and/or team to act upon the information that you discovered during a SWOT analysis?


It’s important to set forth at the outset what your comprehensive plan is for turning your SWOT into action. A SWOT is a multi-step process. Begin with an outline of all the steps, and make sure all key stakeholders buy into this plan. For example:

  • Phase 1: Create a statement of the subject area and purpose of the SWOT.
  • Phase 2: Determine the members of your SWOT team, or teams. [If doing a SWOT preparatory to creating an organization-wide 3-year strategic plan, for example, you might want to comprise a number of different teams to develop input – e.g., Development staff; Finance staff; IT staff; Program staff; Board, etc.]
  • Phase 3: Send surveys to SWOT team members for preliminary identification of S, W, O and T.
  • Phase 4a: Conduct SWOT brainstorm and evaluation meeting, using neutral facilitator.
  • Phase 4b: Continue with SWOT evaluation meeting by determining key strategies to turn your SWOT into actionable strategies.
  • Phase 5: Designate someone to write up results from the meeting.
  • Phase 6: Consolidate write-up takeaways into report form.
  • Phase 7: Use the report as the basis for a final SWOT brainstorm/evaluation meeting.
  • Phase 8: Designate someone to write up results from the meeting in the form of a strategic plan that outlines priority strategies.
  • Phase 9: Distribute the written results; ask for group acceptance (and/or modification) of the plan.
  • Phase 10: Distribute the approved plan and flesh it out to add specific tactics, deadlines and assignment of responsibilities for each strategy.

The broader the subject area of analysis, the longer the process will take. It’s certainly possible to conduct a SWOT that is simpler and necessitates fewer phases.


Please talk about how to get your Board to buy into the process, so that the plan doesn’t just get left on the shelf.


Talk with the board president and key board members in advance of the SWOT so they understand the multi-phase process. Clarify their role and responsibility in seeing the process through to fruition. Also clarify the staff role in this process. Once the plan has been created, don’t leave it alone! Continue to refer to the plan at every board and committee meeting throughout the course of the year; track your progress and make modifications as appropriate.


Our team is comprised of newbies, folks who’ve been there a while, varying professional experiences. I want to do a SWOT on our team with the goal of learning how to best function together. Would that work as a SWOT?


Absolutely! See my answer to question #1, above. I have done SWOTs for precisely this reason, and they can be quite effective. A neutral facilitator will be key, since otherwise the newbies’ voices may be drowned out. Alternatively, the folks who’ve been there a while might feel irrelevant when confronted by new ideas and suggestions for strategies about which they’re unfamiliar. An expert facilitator will assure everyone feels safe and valued.


I am the ED of a startup NPO. Been putting on a 5K for 9 years and been doing all of our fundraising and cancer education work myself. Have myself drafted a strategic plan. Have a brand new Board. Too soon for SWOT? Or really should do one before talking strategic plan?


It sounds as if you’re a founder, and this can be tricky. Especially when you’ve been chief cook and bottle washer and are the repository of most of the knowledge about your organization. It’s unclear to me whether you’ve had a board in the past, or whether you just built one. If the latter, you may have a group of folks who are looking for you to simply lead them – either astray or forward.

When you do a SWOT, you want to bring folks to the table who are likely to have valuable perspectives to contribute. These folks may need some time to get up to speed on the depth and breadth of what you do, why and how you do it, how you’re financed, who your competition is, and so forth.  Until they have this knowledge, it will be difficult for them to assess each of the S, W, O and T elements towards building a new strategic plan.

That being said, this group could be asked to conduct a SWOT for another purpose. For example, you could do a marketing audit where you address the perception of your organization in the community, the competition, and so forth. Prior to doing so, you’d want to provide the board members with materials outlining who your clients are, who your donors are, finances, etc.


Any ideas on how to encourage an external facilitator for an organization whose budget is almost every dollar reviewed.


You may want to consult with other organizations in your community and suggest a facilitator swap. Or perhaps a different kind of exchange. For example, if you’re an arts organization you might ask a local social services agency if they would offer the services of one of their trained facilitators in exchange for tickets and a behind-the-scenes tour with your artistic director as an auction item for their next event. Some nonprofit leaders will do this simply as a courtesy. I used to work with an executive director who would from time to time facilitate board retreats, on a pro bono basis, for other nonprofits. Why not? It was good exposure for our nonprofit. Win/win!

Good luck with your SWOT! And if you want more answers to questions like these, please consider enrolling in Clairification School.

Download our free SWOT analysis guide and template to shine a light on your nonprofit’s future so you can shape it proactively, not retroactively.

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.