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Strategic Planning Using SMART, SWOT, and SOAR Analysis

Enthusiastic strategic manager skilled in budgeting, fundraising, grant writing and policy development. Master of Public Administration.

Strategic Planning

Writing a dynamic strategic plan and evaluating your organization should involve established analysis tools.

"Strategic planning is a systematic approach by a given organization to make decisions about issues which are of fundamental and crucial importance to its continuous long-term health and vitality” (Steiss).

Here are 3 analysis tools your organization should consider:

SMART: Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound

SOAR: Strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results

SWOT: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats


Writing SMART Objectives

Are your organization's goals written in the form of “SMART” objectives? Are they “specific,” “measurable,” “achievable,” “relevant,” and “time-bounded?” Example: By June 30, 2021, 100% of employees will have successfully completed OSHA's safety course.

SMART objectives are important for strategic planning since they focus on the effectiveness of the organization. Goals and objectives that are clear, efficient, and effective will transcend the organization and inspire management and employees to follow suit.

Consider these three goal areas: Service delivery, human resources, and resource development. Write goals for these three areas following the SMART format. Your resource development goals should seek to increase volunteers and contributions. Write the goals so they are quantifiable and achievable.

Components of a Strategic Plan

  • Write clear goals and objectives.
  • Establish reasonable time frames.
  • Measure productivity, quality improvement, and provide cost analysis.
  • Seek collaboration, inspire innovation, and measure the impact of community benefits.
  • Write a budget that is linked to grant requirements.This would allow for more quantifiable performance measures as well as cost-benefit analysis.
  • Identify the executive role in change management and overall organizational control.
  • Evaluate your organization’s direction and purpose.
  • Identify and quantify performance measures.
  • Your plan should emphasize improving the relationship with the client.

SWOT Analysis

Are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats identified? SWOT analysis is a widely accepted performance evaluation tool. However, it should be more than a list generating exercise (Kearns). Thoroughly evaluate your organization using the four analysis tools.

Focus on identifying more strengths than weaknesses of your organization. Keep in mind that research and experience show that, "focusing on the strengths of individuals and organizations is much more powerful and effective than dwelling on deficiencies.” (O’Neill).

Identify your organization's opportunities for success. Some organizations are tempted to focus only on opportunities and develop them at length while strengths, weaknesses, and threats are not given as much attention. Focusing on opportunities gives a sense of foresight for the organization and inspires hope and pride.

Develop all four categories adequately and as balanced as possible.

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SOAR Analysis

Similar to SWOT analysis, SOAR is a reasonable alternative for your plan. Both of the two planning and evaluation tools ask your organization to identify strengths and opportunities. However, SOAR invites your organization to identify aspirations and results. Merriam Webster defines aspiration as, “A strong desire to achieve something.”

SOAR is important to strategic management because it inspires innovation. What are the organization's aspirations and ambitions? Are there new approaches to your business process that should be considered? Can new methods be ventured? If new ideas were incorporated, what was gained? What were the results? Innovations and results should be quantifiable.

Demographic and Economic Factors

It is particularly important to consider demographic and economic factors since they are the most dynamic variables in planning. Strategic management objectives should be time-bound and should include both short-term and long-term goals. Are various demographic and economic factors projected for a defined period of time? (Steiss). While many mission statements are written in a 3-5 year time frame, consider longer term, 20-30 year vision statements. Consider market data as part of your organization's economic assessment. Determine and provide census data.

Collaboration and Social Innovation

Does your organization incorporate collaboration as well as social enterprises as mechanisms to promote greater social innovation? Productivity and quality improvement are best measured by how well the organization collaborates with other entities. Is your organization able to measure social innovation? It could include inspiring community input to identify ways to improve the social conditions of the area. Organizations tend to identify the use of collaboration in the role of program services. Some programs boast cutting-edge, state of the art practices. These components also need to be quantifiable.

Community Benefits and Impact Measures

Does your organization provide information about those who directly benefit from those activities (clients and members) as well as impact measures that aim to reflect the net benefit for the broader community? Examine the outputs and outcomes of the organization. Identify benefits that can be evaluated using cost-benefit analysis. As an alternative, identify and analyze impact measures. Some organizations provide underlying service assumptions. Here is an example of a vague statement found in a report from a non-profit organization: “Engaging and participating in community life has a positive impact on people with disabilities.” We assume that the plan has a positive impact but there are no statistics provided. This also can be seen as a deficiency particularly if required to do grant reporting of impact measures. The organization could have stated, "In 2020, 405 persons with disabilities received our services. 375 were able to find part-time jobs."

Budget, Grant and Process Objectives

Provide a formal budget. Does the budget establish a working financial plan for the project so that progress and performance of the personnel administering the funds can be measured and reported? Typically, grant specifications will require personnel to conduct performance measures. Every income source and expenditure must be clearly documented. Provide specifics about funding sources. Avoid vague statements like, “Government contracts are still a significant source of funding.” Identify and quantify the source of funding. For example, list the organizations that were contracted with said government entity and state the amount of funding in dollars. If any grant monies were used to establish or sustain the organization, provide the data. A lack of documentation might be a further deficiency for the organization during a grant evaluation.

Grant requirements should be included in your strategic plan. Further, does the budget directly link to the methods (process objectives) and evaluation components within the grant specifications and requirements? It is important to link the budget to the process objectives for improved cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

Some organizations identify fundraising efforts as part of the financial and strategic planning. Avoid vague statements like, “There is an increase by 25% in the number of contributions that support the operating budget.” Identify the amount budgeted for fundraising so that anyone can calculate the 25% increase. Another example of a vague statement found in a strategic plan: "We have a $1 million endowment fund." More details are needed regarding how the endowment fund is set up. Your strategic plan needs to include a copy of the budget and link it to the process objectives.

Example of Grant Requirements


Effective Communication

Does your organization's administration widely communicate the need for change and how change can be accomplished successfully? It is important to demonstrate that broad communication can be accomplished effectively and profitably. If your organization is going through change, what communication process is used? How is it managed or controlled? While change is anticipated by many organizations, the control, and communication of it needs to be well-developed in the plan.

Management Commitment to Change

If change is implemented into a new management system, does it result in or is there evidence of executive commitment, an open and trusting culture, and employee empowerment? While these might be hard to identify and measure, does the strategic plan discuss or offer insight as to whether the executives are committed? Is the culture one that goes beyond a working relationship and inspires hope, conviction, and confidence in the organization and one another? Employee empowerment might be shown by how much input and buy-in is considered and the degree of leeway that they enjoy. How much latitude is given to each employee?

Some organizations adhere to a set of core operating values. Does your organization promote a caring attitude, responsiveness, respectfulness, individualized support, diversity, integrity and accountability, state of the art practices, partnerships, advocacy, and financial sustainability? If so, how are they measured? Service agencies should focus on the relationship with their clients. Focus on the employee-management relationship. A well-written strategic plan will also include employee empowerment.


While there are a variety of criteria that can be used to accurately evaluate your strategic plan, make sure to include these key evaluation markers:


Your plan should include a budget. Provide information about grant requirements and any government funding. Include the amounts. Link the budget to the plan. This in turn would allow for measurable performance standards.

Goals and Objectives

Goals and objectives should clearly follow the “SMART” criterion. Make sure goals are measurable. Provide data to calculate a cost-benefit ratio. Provide quantifiable inputs, outputs, outcomes and impacts.

Employee engagement

Management should establish a positive work environment by fostering team input. This is especially crucial in a service agency so that agents can effectively reach out to those in need with a sense of pride and innovation.


A well-balanced strategic plan will seek to incorporate all three planning and analysis methods (SMART, SWOT, and SOAR). It should be written in such a way that would allow for the correction of any deficiencies. The plan should provide budget information as well as grant requirements. Accentuate strengths and opportunities. Acknowledge threats and weaknesses. Be open to change and consider your plan dynamic. Following these initiatives will enable your organization to navigate through our ever-changing times.


Australian Productivity Commission (2010). Contribution of the not-for-profit sector, research report, Canberra.

Chanley, S. (2011). Week 5: week 6 cost analysis & budgeting - week 6 lecture.

Cummings, T. G. & Woorley, C.G. (1995). Requirements for successful organizational change. Authenticity Consulting LLC. Retrieved from:"cummings"

Kearns, K. P. (1992). From comparative advantage to damage control: Clarifying strategic issues using SWOT analysis. Nonprofit Management and Leadership3(1), 3–22. doi: 10.1002/nml.4130030103

O’Neill, C. (2007). SOAR don't SWOT: Asset-based strategic planning. Nonprofit Boards and Governance Review. Rancho Santa Margarita, CA: Charity Channel LLC.

Steiss, A. W. (2003). Strategic management for public and nonprofit organizations.New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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