The last two years have been trying, tumultuous, and hard to plan for. With so many uncertainties facing businesses and, especially, nonprofits on a near-daily basis, many leaders went into survival mode. Planning could come later.

Well, now it’s later. And now is the time to assess your organization’s financial and programmatic health. With so many changes over the past couple of years, this is an important step to make sure that you continue to provide the services that your community needs and that you do so in a financially sustainable manner. One of the best and most straightforward ways to assess the health of your organization is with a SWOT diagram analysis. 

A SWOT diagram, which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, is useful because it’s simple. You can use a SWOT diagram to focus on your finances, the needs of your staff, or the needs of your larger community. There is no right or wrong with a SWOT, so you can make it fit your organization’s unique circumstances.

But, how do you turn the diagram into actionable strategies that will support your organization in the long term? Below, we will walk you through some of the key areas to focus on as we approach 2022 and how to use your SWOT diagram to create real, informed strategies for your organization.

Knowing What to Assess

Organizations use reassessment tools like the SWOT diagram to help prepare for growth or expansion, realign themselves with their mission, change their goals, or adjust to a new environment. COVID deeply affected our organizations, economies, and communities, and so nearly every organization can benefit from a reassessment in some way. 

Simply, if you haven’t evaluated your operations and services in the past year, now is the time!

Applying the SWOT

The SWOT diagram can be analyzed through a variety of lenses as long as you leverage the right tools. A few examples include an Environmental Scan, Stakeholder Engagement, and a Financial Reassessment.

Environmental Scan

One way a SWOT diagram can be used is to assess a changing environment around your organization. An environmental scan will help your organization to take advantage of a changing environment by always being a step ahead. In this case, the Opportunities and Threats section of the diagram can illustrate the positive and negative aspects of particular environmental changes to your organization. The Strengths and Weaknesses sections can assess your organizational capacity to respond to environmental change.

Note: In environmental scans in particular, it can be helpful to begin your SWOT diagram with the opportunities and threats sections. These sections will help inform the strengths and weaknesses since most of your evaluation will be in relation to new opportunities or threats brought about by changes to your organizational environment. 

Stakeholder Engagement 

Using a SWOT during stakeholder engagement is a great way to identify areas where your organization can improve services for your clients or community. Consider using the diagram in focus groups or group meetings to facilitate discussion and help realign your goals with the needs of the community you serve. Strengths and weaknesses are one dimension you likely already use in your stakeholder engagement, but the opportunities and threats section gives stakeholders the opportunity to discuss the future vision of your organization in the community. In many cases, stakeholders can identify opportunities before they are even on your radar.

Note: The SWOT diagram can be done in groups and individually. One idea is to ask each individual to create their own diagram and then plot all these diagrams out as a group.


A SWOT analysis of finances can offer helpful insights into the current financial model of your organization, but it also provides space for reflection on potential future inefficiencies. The Strengths and Weaknesses in finances is simply a picture of where your organization is positioned currently. Your Opportunities and Threats section is a chance to consider potential strategy options to maximize the effectiveness of your budget. 

Note: We recommend considering the last three years of your finances. By comparing your expenses and income pre-pandemic with your finances from peak-pandemic and now, you’ll be able to critically evaluate your financial health and future. Importantly, this approach will give you insight on the emergency decisions you made during the pandemic. 

Analyzing your SWOT

A key rule of any organizational evaluation is that you’ll get out of it what you put into it. While SWOT is a nice, simple acronym and the four-box diagram seems straightforward, these diagrams require attention to detail. Be diligent when making your diagram and do your best to avoid oversimplifying. Check out experts’ ideas here and here on how to successfully create and implement your diagram.

The SWOT diagram is not an action plan. Think of it like a compass. It can help you understand where you are now and point you in the direction of your organizational goals. Developing a plan means asking two specific questions based on your diagram:

  1. What are achievable goals over the next few years? 
    • Example goal: Over the next six months, we want to expand the reach of our website by 20%. 
  2. What are specific strategies we can use to get there? 
    • Example Strategy: We will produce two high-quality pieces of content per month and develop a newsletter. We will use these pieces of content for a low-level advertising campaign.

Your strategic plan should contain a number of goals and strategies based on the responses to your SWOT diagram. A general approach to building goals and strategies from your SWOT analysis can be seen in the chart below.


One of the best features of a SWOT analysis is that it is forward-looking by nature. Many organizational assessments will simply begin by considering your existing strengths and weaknesses. A SWOT analysis forces you and your team to consider the potential pathways and roadblocks to growth, and build a plan based on your goals for the future, not just the present. This little diagram is not a cure-all for organizational challenges, but it’s an accessible tool you can use to begin your organizational evaluation process.

SWOT diagrams are just the first step in transforming your organizational capacity. Interested in learning more? Check out our COVID-19 Nonprofit Tune Up.

Simon assists client services by developing outreach strategies, supporting project management, and collecting and analyzing data. He also aids business development by drafting and copy-editing proposals.
Bebe supports business development efforts at Public Works by developing creative content and strategies that advance our mission of increasing clients’ impact on their communities. She uses her background in communications to craft thoughtful materials that add to conversations around urban planning and social services. She supports the Client Services team by creating graphics and syntheses that clearly communicate findings from complex analyses. Her prior experience includes mission-driven public relations work for an architectural firm and cultural institutions.

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