Communicator - Newsletter for Amputee Support Groups - Easy Read Article

SWOT Analysis: A Process to Plan Your Support Group’s Future

Translated into plain language by Helen Osborne, 2006
Health Literacy Consulting,

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As the leader of an amputee support group, one of your jobs is to help the group shape its future. But this is often hard to do. Sometimes leaders want to “throw in the towel” when problems arise, rather than taking the time to figure out what’s wrong. Or leaders may act too quickly on new ideas before really thinking through action plans.

SWOT analysis is a structured way to prevent problems like these. It does do by looking at a group’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. For instance, a SWOT analysis can help:

  • Support groups develop strategic plans
  • Leaders and board members improve skills
  • Members follow through on program ideas

SWOT analysis is helpful for all support groups – those just getting started, as well as groups that have been meeting for many years. For instance, SWOT can help new groups plan what to do rather than just copy ideas from others. Or SWOT can help long-term groups make decisions when they feel “stuck” or are at a crossroads about what to do.

SWOT analysis is not an end in itself. Rather, it is a process of looking at internal and external factors that affect how groups work. SWOT allows groups to grab opportunities, guard against threats, and make better choices. Here’s how:

1. Look at the group’s strengths and weaknesses (internal factors).

Strengths are things that your group does well. These may be ways that your group meets the needs of its long-time members, new amputees, or local healthcare services. Strengths also include good leadership, strong finances, active volunteers, interesting meetings, and thriving programs (such as peer visitation or newsletters).

Weaknesses are things your group does not do well. They can include poor leadership, low (or no) budget, lack of volunteers, absence of “team spirit,” poorly attended meetings, or too few ways of promoting programs.

2. Look at opportunities and threats (external factors).

Opportunities are things you would do “if only….” They might be teaching members about up-to-date healthcare information, finding new funding sources (such as grants from businesses or foundations), and meeting local certified prosthetists, hospitals or volunteers.

Threats are small problems that may quickly become big problems. They can include leader burnout (when leaders want to quit), funding that is about to stop, loss of free meeting space, or unhappy members who are planning to start a new support group.

3. Analyze SWOT factors

This process works best when done with everyone who cares about the group – the support group leader, board of directors, members and volunteers. While one person can analyze SWOT factors alone, more people add important points of view. Sometimes, an outside facilitator (who is not part of the group) helps with this process.

To analyze SWOT factors, start by making a chart with four sections: "Strengths," "Weaknesses," "Opportunities," and "Threats." Then, as a group, add information to each section. Keep it simple:

  • Strengths. This is not a time to be modest. Begin by asking for key words that briefly describe the group. Write exactly what people say. These words can later become more complete ideas.
  • Weaknesses. Be honest. It is better to talk about bad news now than make plans based on wrong information. Make a list of weaknesses just as you did for strengths.
  • Opportunities. Here are some questions to help find opportunities: “When you look at our group's ‘market,’ what do you see?” What do our members need that the group does not provide?” “What does the group do that members do not value?
  • Threats. You can find these by asking, “What could damage or destroy the group’s ability to offer needed services?”

4. Develop a strategic plan

This is the most important part of a SWOT analysis. The strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats you listed are just statements of what is, or is not, working. A strategic plan is a way to improve. Here’s how:

  • Choose the most important strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Work on those and put the others aside for now.
  • Analyze each item in terms of internal factors (what you can do something about) and external factors (what you cannot do anything about).
  • Develop a plan for each item. This should include dates when items will be done, people responsible for each item, and specific “action steps.”

Support groups have found that the benefits of a SWOT analysis more than make up for the time and effort this process takes. As a support group leader, I know that a SWOT analysis is one of the best ways to improve support group programs.

Ways to Learn More

An Example of SWOT Analysis

The Upland Cities Amputee Support Group (made-up name and example) asked its officers and active members to meet for a SWOT analysis. One weakness they found was that the group’s address list was in “bad shape.” The list was only on paper (not computer) with just the name, address and phone number of each member. There was no information about whether people were amputees or healthcare professionals and nothing about gender or amputation cause.

This lack-of-information was seen as a threat to this group because:

  • There was no easy way to make mailing labels
  • It was hard to collect dues and donations
  • The group did not know how or where to promote itself
  • It was hard to attract new members
  • The peer visitation program was not working well
  • The board of directors could not get needed reports

The SWOT analysis also showed that the group did not have access to a computer. And it had not done any fund-raising -- never asking local businesses to donate money, services, or products. The analysis also found strengths and opportunities, including good relationships with local certified prosthetists and medical equipment dealers. The group also had many volunteers and members with computer experience.

After an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, the support group came up with the goal: By December 31, 2005, all addresses will be on a computer.

The action plan included who was going to do what, when:

  • August 1, 2005. Make a priced list of what is needed (John)
  • August 1, 2005. Establish a fund-raising goal (John)
  • August 1, 2005. Make a list of potential donors (Louise)
  • August 1, 2005. Prepare a "pitch" to prospective donors (Louise)
  • August 1, 2005. Decide the information needed for each record (Harriet and board)
  • Starting August 15, 2005. Contact prospective donors (John, Louise, Becky, Ed)
  • October 1, 2005. Update existing records (Harriet, Ruth, Jean)
  • October 15, 2005. Add visitations to member records (Harriet, Ruth, Jean)
  • November 15, 2005. Complete fund-raising (John, Louise, Becky, Ed)
  • December 1, 2005. Purchase and install necessary hardware and software (John)
  • December 15, 2005. Install and test database management system (John)
  • December 31, 2005. Complete entry of up-to-date records into computer (Harriet)

Thanks to the SWOT analysis, the Upland Cities Amputee Support Group is pleased to report that it was able to meet its goal.

**Translated from “Leadership Skills: SWOT Analysis—A Structured Way to Plan.” Dick Mooney, The Communicator, Volume 2 No. 4, August 2001.

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