How to Do a SWOT Analysis


A SWOT analysis is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  It is basically a review of the internal organisation's strengths and weaknesses, and a review of opportunities and threats in the external world - often called an environmental scan.


The external component of the environmental scan should include a review of the target or service community and the broader environment in which the organisation operates, to identify the opportunities and threats facing the organisation. This might include the following:


  • Considering forces and trends in the broader community, political, economic, social, and sometimes technological areas. Looking at changing demographics, political trends, community values, economic trends, the implications of new or changing laws and regulations affecting the organisation, communications and other technological trends -- and consider their impact on the organisation and the population it serves
  • Looking carefully at the immediate target community or service area to determine its status and needs, and specifically those of current and potential clients and beneficiaries of the organisation's services and advocacy
  • Considering opportunities and challenges related to resources and funders
  • Looking at actual and potential collaborators and competitors, including organisations which may serve the same customers, or access the same funding sources, public or private.


The internal component of the environmental scan includes an assessment of the organisation's strengths and weaknesses. This may include a number of components or approaches.


  • Assessing current organisational performance in terms of financial and human resources (inputs), operating methods or strategies (processes), and results or outcomes (outputs). If the organisation does not have extensive objective measures of its outcomes, perceived performance can be partially determined through asking customers and stakeholders. It is helpful to understand how key players or stakeholders view the organisation.
  • It is often valuable to identify critical success factors for the organisation. This step is not always included in strategic planning, but can be very useful. Try to understand what factors are necessary to the future and continued success of the organisation.
  • The organisation may review or formalise organisational values and operating principles. Some organisations have written values and principles which guide their decision making and their ongoing activities. These can be very helpful in "defining" the organization.

A consultant can be hired to assist with the environmental scan, and contacting stakeholders to provide an external view along with staff to obtain an internal assessment. An organisation that is open in its communications may be able to obtain this information without outside assistance, through a staff retreat or a series of meetings with staff in various components and at various levels within the organisation.


The committee responsible for the strategic plan should work with staff to plan the environmental scan, help to conduct external interviews, and ensure that the Board receives a full report on the results of the environmental scan process (if the organisation has a board).


The result of the environmental scan should be an analysis of organisational strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats. Often, the strategic planning retreat will begin with a presentation of results of the environmental scan. Sometimes, results are presented at a Board or Board-staff session (if the organisation has a board) prior to the retreat. In either case, the Board and staff should be familiar with the findings before strategic planning decisions are made.


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