As a nonprofit professional, your organization’s success depends on your ability to anticipate and respond to change. Your nonprofit’s circumstances, whether internal or external, are always evolving. Responding to challenges effectively and capitalizing on your strengths can set your nonprofit up for long-term success.
In this process, it can be particularly helpful to conduct a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis is a strategic planning technique that involves evaluating your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Your strengths and weaknesses are the internal factors that your nonprofit deals with, including staffing considerations, marketing plans, and the software tools you use to run your organization. Opportunities and threats are the external factors that can either support or slow down your nonprofit’s development.
This guide reviews the steps of creating a nonprofit SWOT analysis, including when to use this type of analysis and how to put your insights into action.
When to use a nonprofit SWOT analysis
You can conduct a SWOT analysis for multiple aspects of your nonprofit’s operations, depending on your strategic planning needs. It’s helpful to conduct a SWOT analysis at regular intervals, such as at the beginning of each year or after your organization has undergone major shifts in your operations.
Here are a few areas where a SWOT analysis can reveal valuable insights:
A SWOT analysis can help you understand where your nonprofit stands regarding its technology use. For example, you might want to look at your use of the following tools:
- Your donor management system
- Your fundraising software
- Your email marketing software
- Your event planning platform
The analysis can help determine whether there are opportunities to make better use of your current technology or invest in new tools.
You can also use a SWOT evaluation to analyze your organization’s fundraising streams. Diversifying your revenue streams requires optimizing your fundraising campaign types and strategies. These may include:
- Online fundraising
- Major gift fundraising
- Event fundraising
- Direct mail fundraising
- Corporate sponsorships
- Grant funding
A SWOT analysis can be a useful opportunity to identify your fundraising strengths and weaknesses to develop a stronger foundation for your organization.
Your marketing approach can also benefit from a strategic analysis. You may want to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your marketing strategy when it comes to the following marketing platforms:
- Your nonprofit website
- Your organization’s approach to social media
- Your email marketing campaigns
- Your direct mail marketing efforts
Assess which marketing strategies and platforms are most engaging for your unique audience and determine the best course of action to take advantage of evolving marketing best practices.
Let’s look at a few specific examples as we review the various elements of a SWOT analysis.
The first consideration when conducting a SWOT analysis is reviewing your nonprofit’s internal strengths. What internal areas or activities does your nonprofit excel at?
Here are some examples of strengths your nonprofit might possess:
- Your online fundraising software is optimized and you’re continuously testing new ask strategies, so your digital campaigns thrive.
- Your nonprofit prioritizes employee engagement through activities such as professional development opportunities and equitable compensation, so you enjoy a high employee retention rate.
- Your organization’s volunteer opportunities are engaging and rewarding, leading to strong volunteer retention.
- Your organization’s grant-seeking team is experienced and organized, allowing your nonprofit to benefit from regular grant funding.
Noting your strengths allows you to identify the aspects of your strategy that are working and should be maintained in future planning.
All nonprofits have aspects of their operations that could use improvement. Where does your nonprofit struggle?
For example, some of your internal weaknesses may include:
- Your organization faces high staff turnover.
- You don’t have a clear system for tracking metrics such as donor retention rates.
- You’re using outdated equipment or your facilities need repairs.
- You have limited staff, so there is less team bandwidth to take on new projects.
Your organization’s weaknesses are simply opportunities for improvement. With careful planning, they can eventually turn into strengths as you work to enhance your internal operations. Identifying shortcomings is the first step in making tangible progress to improve on your weaknesses.
What new opportunities are available for your nonprofit to take advantage of that can help you grow? For example, you might identify opportunities such as:
- Business partnerships with companies that offer philanthropy programs, such as corporate matching gift programs
- Strategic partnerships with other nonprofits in your community or cause area
- Government legislation that positively impacts your organization, allowing you to fundraise or manage volunteers in a different way. You may identify opportunities to continue influencing the government through grassroots organizing and advocacy work.
Anticipating future opportunities will give your organization clear guiding priorities to set in the months and years ahead.
What external factors could potentially lead to obstacles for your organization? Threats your organization faces might include:
- Shifting priorities from a granting organization or the government makes it difficult to maintain certain funding sources
- Recent legislation negatively impacts your organization, making it more challenging to complete your mission
- Your local community isn’t familiar with your mission or cause area, meaning you struggle to raise awareness for your organization and its purpose
You won’t be able to anticipate every threat that your nonprofit will face in a year, but pinpointing the major possible ones will give you a good head start with your strategic planning.
Use this template to write out your SWOT analysis and view all insights at the same time:
Putting your insights into action
The ultimate purpose of a nonprofit SWOT analysis is to identify the right course of action to emphasize your strengths and opportunities and mitigate your weaknesses and threats.
After writing out each element of your SWOT analysis, act on the insights using the following strategies:
- Determine the underlying cause of each strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat. Take time to analyze the influences that affect your nonprofit’s current state. Note aspects that are fully under your control and elements that you have no control over.
- Figure out how you can capitalize on your strengths. Maybe your nonprofit excels at gathering research about your target audience. According to DonorSearch, you can use this information to create profiles for donor prospects. This allows you to develop a more strategic targeting marketing strategy that speaks to your audience’s interests and motivations.
- Create a plan for improving internal weaknesses. For example, one of your weaknesses may be your outdated online fundraising software. Bloomerang recommends investing in an easy-to-use platform to keep fundraising and donor data front and center with an interactive dashboard.
- Assign roles and responsibilities within your team to take advantage of opportunities. Perhaps you identified an opportunity to improve your approach to fostering business partnerships. If so, designate team members to further research the opportunity and create a plan for meeting with potential corporate partners.
- Create a mitigation plan for dealing with external threats. Most external threats are fully outside of your nonprofit’s control, but you should still create a plan to deal with them so that they don’t become major obstacles. For example, you might create a plan to diversify your funding to offset any decline in any one fundraising stream.
Establish team members’ roles and responsibilities for addressing each aspect of your SWOT analysis. You may even consult donors and volunteers to help understand how your organization can best address the insights identified in your analysis. They can provide valuable outside perspectives and even point out additional opportunities or threats that your team may not have thought of.
A SWOT analysis may be the tool your nonprofit needs to get organized and establish guiding priorities. Conducting this type of analysis regularly can ensure that your organization remains self-aware and can identify new growth opportunities.
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