Creating Credibility & Culture: Part III Doing the SWOT

In this blog and podcast, I am going to talk about the SWOT. No, you are not going to learn about how to be a spy or special forces work while wearing black military outfits as that would be, SWAT. We are referring to SWOT which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Although a SWOT is a special type of reconnaissance work.

Why do a SWOT?

So why do this fancy analysis? Well, it is very important to conduct an analysis of the current of stage your organization or company and establish where you want it to go. This is especially true when you have a new administration come in, or if you are expanding and growing. For instance, your organization may get some new grants and expand to a different target demographic. Or you may launch a new product to expand your reach and generate more income. Maybe you just haven’t really analyzed your programs and projects for several years, and the workflow and projects are stagnant. Or possibly you could have high turnover rate of staff and want to mitigate unforeseen or foreseen changes.

The SWOT is best done together as a group, although one could argue it’s a good technique to do by yourself if you are a solopreneur. But really this type of analysis is best for organizations, companies, associations, and so forth that have a common goal.

SWOT as part of your Annual Retreat

I do recommend conducting a SWOT as part of your annual retreat. Yes, do this every year. Why every year? Well, your organization is dynamic and changes, but also there are changing external threats that are out of your control. I just did a SWOT on Guam recently and a new threat that organizations wrote down was North Korea. A couple of years ago one organization placed the U.S. military build-up on the island as a threat, yet another organization placed the military build-up as an opportunity. Outside factors do affect your organization, but it is up to your team to determine what the impact is and how to adjust to or influence these factors.

As far as an annual retreat, you don’t have to go rent a weekend resort in some quaint village on a remote island. This can be done within your office, but I do recommend that you do not squeeze it into normal work hours because there will be normal work disturbances. The best way is to set aside a special time to do this, even if this means that no one is working 9-5 that week. That means your administrative assistants (secretaries) attend the SWOT, too.

One issue I see with the SWOT analysis and retreats is that the administrative assistants are not included as phones still ring and customers or clients still come in the front door. It is a huge mistake to exclude administrative assistants as they are the first point of contact at your organization. They have valuable information to contribute to your team, and they need to intimately understand your organization and culture. You want them to be excited when they are talking about your programs or products and to convey that excitement to others. If they aren’t even sure what all the programs are or what resources your organization provides, then you are going to start having disgruntled customers and clients and bored assistants. One way to allow for the assistants to be able to participate in these meetings is to have volunteers or temps answer the phone and be the point of contact for the duration of the SWOT analysis and retreat.

How many in a SWOT?

At times, you may just have the SWOT done first by the board of directors, one for managers, and a separate one done for other staff and volunteers. This might be appropriate. But for smaller nonprofits, you may want to have everyone in the room and feel valued on an equal level. What you want to aim for is significant participation. If you have a staff of 200 people, it may be more appropriate to break up the staff into groups, but be sure to share the results.

SWOT Methods

So how do you do a SWOT analysis? Well, it’s quite simple. There are different methods that I will share with you.

The Old School Method

I like the old school approach of putting up four separate HUGE white papers on the wall and labeling them: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Then hand out markers and let people know that they can quietly get up and write down what they think is vital throughout the conversation. Some ice breakers to start the conversation could be to have the individuals share short stories on challenges they face, as well as brainstorm solutions. Another great way is to start with the four questions of “What is Your Why?” We went over this in more depth in the last podcast, but these questions are:

  1. What is your main passion for you being on this board/organization/beneficiary?
  2. What do you have to offer?
  3. What do you want in return?
  4. What change do you want to see by the end of your term/or end of the year?

These are great questions to stimulate conversation while the SWOT starts.

Group Process Method

You could also ask them questions and stimulate thought and conversation and ask what people think are the strengths of the organization / the product / or the program. You could go ahead and bullet points it electronically on your computer with a projector and have a more linear group approach with everyone doing one category of the SWOT at a time.

Small Break Out Group Method

You can also break up the room into smaller groups and have each group work on a category; i.e. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, or Threats. After a certain amount of time then swap categories for the groups. For example Group A could be working on Strengths for ten minutes while other groups work on other categories. After ten minutes or so, you could hand the Strengths paper to Group B (and switch all other categories within groups) and Group A might then have Opportunities for ten minutes. You could do this until every group has had an opportunity to fill out items under each category.

All Methods – Consolidating the Results

One of the most effective ways to really articulate the findings with the entire group is to give each person three different colored stickers or markers and then have them mark which three results they find the most important. For example, under each category, there will end up being a slew of ideas such as; loyalty, teamwork, strong or weak volunteer base, a large or small network of stakeholders, and so forth. To really see what the majority think are the highest priority Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, or Threats have each person indicate their three highest priority areas. Then you can easily count which items are number one, number two, and number three. So, fifteen people may put a markdown next to loyalty that was listed under strength, 10 people indicate teamwork, 8 people indicate holiday time, and so on. This is great as it isn’t one person voicing what they think is most important or critical, but it is the mass and will resonate with most people.


So, what are the outcomes of the SWOT? For one, it gives your organization a way to analyze its wellness. Secondly, it’s not the boss telling people what to prioritize making it an organic process that allows everyone to have a voice. Thirdly, you can curate the results from the SWOT analysis and implement the language into your mission or vision statement or even for an elevator statement.

i.e. Our strengths are (strengths) and we work towards (opportunities).

The weaknesses and threats could prepare your organization to find solutions before problems arise.

And finally, the SWOT is a great team-building exercise that creates credibility and buy-in from everyone in your organization. If someone is stating that something is great, they will work harder to keep it in your organization. On the flip side, if they are saying something is weak, it gives them the incentive to find a solution.

So, there it is. How a SWOT can help create credibility and culture for your organization.

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