SWOT-External Analysis

In Board Development, Evaluations, Strategic Planning by Geoff Burns

Continuing on from the internal analysis post, this month I want to focus on the external environment. As you should now know, the internal analysis is all about assessing your organization from the inside (strengths and weaknesses). The internal environment is what you can control. The external environment you cannot control.

The “O” and “T” of the SWOT are the opportunities and the threats to your organization. Too often non-profit leaders overlook this crucial portion of the strategic planning process because the assume that they know what is going on around them. Don’t rationalize the process away. A plan is not strategic if it does not actually address the external environment in a comprehensive manner. Any consultant that tells you otherwise is doing you a disservice.

So what exactly is an external analysis? Well, it includes an analysis of clients, stakeholders, the business environment, and competitors. There are many other things that could be included, but these are typical of most analysis. The purpose of this is to identify trends in technology, societal influences, access to labor and materials, laws and pending legislation, funding potential, or possible political changes. The exact type of analysis you need is dependent upon your organization.

During the analysis process, non-profits need to identify their opportunities and threats. First, opportunities are positive or favorable conditions for the organization in the external environment. Examples could be new funding sources, favorable legislation, a shift in needs for the community, etc. Likewise, threats are negative or unfavorable conditions for the organization in the external environment. Examples of threats could be a potential decrease in funding, new regulations, apathy to your mission, etc.

Ultimately, the process of identifying the environment is crucial to the success of the organization which is undergoing a strategic planning process. As much as the organization needs to know itself, it must also know what is going on around itself. Leaders cannot ignore the surroundings or assume that they know what is going on. Don’t forget that opportunities and threats can look the same in some cases. What one organization thinks is an opportunity could be considered a threat to another organization. Chance and change favors the prepared. Make sure that your organization knows what external forces could have an impact on your operations and mission.