A SWOT analysis (a listing of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) is a common exercise in business planning and reached the shores of the non-profit world decades ago. Some of you probably have experienced a SWOT analysis at your site as part of your strategic or long-range planning. The staff and board gathers around a flipchart to list your organization’s internal strengths and weaknesses, and then your external opportunities and threats. Sometimes there’s a bit of confusion over definitions (what’s a threat?) or where an item should be listed (is this a strength or opportunity?). You might feel a bit of competition to mention a particularly incisive opportunity or are sweating because you can’t name a strength (all the good ones have already been mentioned!). Eventually, the list might be prioritized and some items consolidated so it can be typed up and included in the strategic plan as a basis for decision-making.
Despite its popularity, I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to give SWOT a rest:
- The analysis depends heavily on the people participating and it’ll always be biased in that direction. If you conduct a SWOT exercise with board members who really aren’t involved with the organization, the analysis will probably be superficial and light. Stock the group with lots of educators, the results will lean towards education. There are no surprises here–people talk about what they know. The problem is that the bias is typically not recognized and you wind up building a plan on a foundation that’s skewed or weak.
- It’s often long on strengths and even longer on Continue reading