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Learning to SOAR

After SWOTing for years, I’m learning to SOAR more.

SWOT is everywhere. This popular planning tool helps us assess Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It quickly reveals the internal and external factors impacting an organization.

While SWOT continues to be a valuable tool, I see tremendous value in the SOAR approach. Since it’s aligned with the Appreciative Inquiry philosophy, SOAR begins with key questions to foster curiosity. These questions help identify Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results.

While SWOT and SOAR include significant overlap—notably Strengths and Opportunities—there are some important differences:

  • SOAR is forward-looking, while SWOT focuses on the present situation.

  • SOAR is optimistic, while SWOT is more analytical.

  • SOAR emphasizes collaboration, while SWOT focuses on competition.

  • SOAR is internally-focused, while SWOT also considers external/environmental factors.

[Source: Adapted from Stavros et al. (2003: 11; 12)]

When to SOAR

SWOT will always have an important place in our toolkits but consider using SOAR when you need a different tactic.

  • If you want to foster innovation or collaboration amongst your team—staff and board—at a strategic planning session, you’ll likely be pleased to see how SOAR invites creativity and visioning.

  • If you want to plan a new program or service that aligns with the community’s preferences, SOAR will help you approach with an assets-based lens that leverages community strengths.

  • If your staff is feeling stuck in a rut and you need to get back to the basics of your mission and impact, SOAR will help you express what your organization does better than anyone in the world.

When you are looking for a new perspective—see how you can SOAR!


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