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Path to Progress: Navigating Volunteer Program Improvement with SWOT Analysis

For those of us who serve as volunteer engagement professionals in our organizations, “tried and true” is often the name of the game. There are so many moving parts, from recruitment to onboarding to retention, that making change can feel overwhelming and time consuming. Conducting a SWOT analysis of your program can provide clarity on next steps and help you make your program even better than it already is.

a notebook with the word SWOT across the cover


A SWOT analysis identifies the strengths and weaknesses (internal factors) and opportunities and threats (external factors) of your program. Through interviews conducted with stakeholders outside of your volunteer leadership team, you can glean important information around perception and challenges that you may not identify on your own.

It can also give you some actionable feedback. Do others within your organization understand how volunteers can – and can’t - be engaged? Do they know how to request a volunteer? Are there new ways to implement volunteer service to support your mission – maybe even some you haven’t considered?


One Volunteer Program's SWOT Analysis Story

I conducted a SWOT analysis of my volunteer program to ascertain areas for improvement. Each person was sent the same questions in advance of their 1:1 interview. We learned that our team was seen as approachable, committed, and “in the right place”, and that Volunteer Services was seen as a place where our hospital’s culture thrives, a true point of pride for me.  

Respondents also recognized the large workload on a “small team” (the norm in volunteer services) and appreciated that impact. While perspectives varied, I came away with 4 action items:

  • Staff needed more clarification on what volunteers can do

  • We needed a better way to invite departments to request volunteer support

  • Creating more episodic group opportunities for volunteers

  • Our placement descriptions on the website needed editing for clarity


Staff needed more clarification on what volunteers can do

Staff education was the first step. If a department couldn’t “see” their need in action elsewhere in the hospital, they didn’t think they could ask for a volunteer to do the work.

My coordinator gave a presentation at our quarterly management team meeting illustrating a variety of roles for volunteers that spanned clinical and non-clinical areas. You could see the “aha” moments in the room as leaders began to align the existing roles with their needs.

We needed a better way to invite departments to request volunteer support

Education was a great first step, and it created an opportunity for us to better outline how volunteers could work within departments. We created a volunteer request form that would be sent to any department with a new volunteer need. Through responses to questions, that team could help determine how and why a volunteer would be useful.

a professional business woman leads a SWOT analysis discussion

Was the need one-time, weekly or episodic? Was there a specific day/time volunteer help was needed? And a volunteer professional’s favorite question, was this work that should be done by a paid employee? These questions and others helped departments better outline their needs and helped us find the right volunteer for the role.

Creating more episodic group opportunities for volunteers

We’ve always had external volunteer groups who wanted to host one-time events for our patients and their families. These events had been owned by various members and there wasn’t much consistency, which led to confusion around logistics and expectations both internally and externally.

We gathered the information and compiled one master spreadsheet. Details included number of volunteers needed, suggested timing (evenings, weekdays, or weekends), supplies needed, and responsibilities of the group and internal staff. This gave us a one-stop resource for any team member to access, ensuring consistent and successful events for our patients and their families.

Our placement descriptions on the website needed editing for clarity

The last stop was our website. This is the first stop for anyone interested in joining us as a volunteer. We had one role that was in multiple areas, so each site listed the same role as a different position. It also included more information that a potential volunteer needed, like who the supervisor would be and training to be provided. For an initial point of contact, it could be confusing and unnecessary.

We condensed those roles into one general listing and removed the unnecessary details and confusing acronyms. This helped the actual opportunity stand out more to applicants. It also helped our coordinator place volunteers interested in that role where they were most needed, ensuring a good match for both volunteers and the hosting department.


Conducting Your Own Volunteer Program SWOT Analysis for Improvement

So…are you ready to conduct your own SWOT analysis? Here are my tips to help you be successful:

  • Figure out what you want to learn, solve or address.

  • Identify your stakeholders. Make sure you’re inviting various perspectives – maybe even some whose opinions differ from yours.

  • Don’t rush the process. Ours took place over several months, allowing time for interviews, processing responses and determining action items.

  • Send interview questions in advance. Allow your stakeholders time to really think about their responses.

a hand cupped to an ear intent on listening
  • LISTEN. When conducting your interviews, your role is to take notes and ask questions for clarification. This is not an evaluation of you as a person, it’s an information-gathering tool. Resist the urge to get defensive and instead, hear what they have to say.

  • Give yourself time to compile the feedback, step away, and then come back to it to review. That break will give you clarity when you see your notes with fresh eyes.

Once you’ve found your action items, be realistic about change and timelines. Some changes, like updating placement descriptions on a website, may be relatively quick and easy. Others may require input or action from others or take more time. It’s better to give yourself the time to do it right than rush through something you’ll just have to correct later.



This process isn’t hard, and the payoff is worth it. If you have a clear direction on what you want to learn, you’ll be able to get the answers from stakeholder feedback. You will get some responses that you just can’t act on, but you’ll get some good ideas that just needed a fresh perspective to come to the surface. You’ll also get validation of the value that you, your team and your volunteers bring to the work done in your organization every day. You know that volunteers are the “secret sauce”, but your co-workers see it too.


I encourage you to consider a SWOT analysis as a valuable tool to help you elevate your volunteer program. If results help engage volunteers in a meaningful way, connect them to the mission of your organization, and help departments be even more effective in their work, you’ve hit the jackpot. You can do this!

profile picture of guest blog author Alex Seblatnigg

Alex Seblatnigg, CAVS, CPXP is Director of Volunteer Services and Internal Engagement at Shepherd Center, managing an extensive volunteer program which includes more than 750 volunteers serving Shepherd Center patients as well as family members. She is responsible for an employee giving initiative which annually raises over $200,000. She manages Shepherd Serves, the employee volunteer program. She also leads training for Shepherd’s Grateful Patient program, which empowers former patients and their families to support the organization through a variety of philanthropic channels.


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