PLANNING & How to Create Plans Built Upon an Organization’s SWOT Analysis

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 9/9/15.

In several other postings, I have explained how a simple SWOT analysis can help ministry leaders make better planning decisions.

And, the best tactics are those that build on an organization’s Strengths and Opportunities, called SO-strategies.  

To show how the same SO (Strength Opportunity) strategy can have different tactics, I will share a dialogue between myself and two former students.  This should help clarify how you get tactics (i.e. planning processes) from the SO quadrant (i.e. cell) of the TOWS matrix (which is a grid made from your SWOT analysis).

It began when a student noted that for his church an “Opportunity” was that there were many “working poor” in the church’s neighborhood.  And he also noted the church had a “Strength” for teaching and education.  So, the student suggested an  SO (Strength/Opportunity) strategy in their TOWS matrix which built on the church’s strength and an opportunity would be: “Offer Financial Stewardship Classes with childcare and a meal provided.”

My question in response was the following:

Hello (student name).  I wonder how other churches have addressed the working poor. I’ve heard some anecdotal feedback that financial stewardship classes don’t reach the working poor, but the middle-class. 

Thus, can you do a bit more online sleuthing (and other students can chime in and help you as well – they will then receive more points too) and tell us some more programming to help the working poor?

 Thanks in advance.  Your research can make your church (and other students’ churches) more effective. Dr. Whitesel

Here is how another student in the cohort proficiently responded. I’m sharing it here to help everyone see how there can be different tactics (financial stewardship classes or long-term solidarity with the poor) for the same SO strategy: help the working poor.


Author: Jack (last name)
Date: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 8:14:13 PM EST
 Subject: RE: SWOT & TOWS

Dr. Whitesel’s statement, “I wonder how other churches have addressed the working poor. I’ve heard some anecdotal feedback that financial stewardship classes don’t reach the working poor, but the middle-class planning poor,” is very true.

Here’s more anecdotal feedback for you Adam, but it’s based on eight years of experience working with low-income families through a local non-profit social service ministry and the United Way. The most critical thing to recognize is that programs for addressing financial stewardship with low-income families do not work unless they take into account cultural differences between generational low-income people and situational low-income people. This is where the distinction in Dr. Whitsel’s comment between the “working poor” and “middle-class planning poor” is so important. If we assume that the “working poor” have been low-income for generations and the “middle-class planning poor” are low-income only due to a job loss, demotion or other circumstance, then how you reach them is very different.

Ruby Payne, Ph.D. has done some tremendous work on the cultural differences between typical low, middle and high income families in her book “Bridges Out of Poverty.” In it she points out factors like how these groups different core values impact their stewardship of money. For example, middle-income people tend to value the Puritan work ethic, gaining more financial security than the previous generation, etc. Wealthier people, who have typically always had money, value things that transcend monetary value (like art, culture, etc.). Low-income people, who often feel like they’ll never have money, value relationships. Thus, when one of their own starts to achieve financial independence or pursue higher education they can hear statements like “you’re getting above your raising.”

Another key difference between middle income and low income values is the tendency for low income people to feel like they’ll never get ahead. Thus, when they get a financial windfall, they are apt to spend it on something fun instead of save it. Saving for the future is a middle income value, not a low income value. These values often stick with a person even if their income status changes later in life. For example, I have a friend who grew up with generationally low income parents. He’s been low income his whole life. A few years ago, he got a $6,000 bonus at work. He spent it all in one weekend on a trip to a Nascar race using the rationale that “I’ll never have another opportunity.” Years later, he is now middle income but still lives paycheck to paycheck and is often facing financial trouble because his attitudes about money prevail. On the other hand, I was poor growing up but my family was situationally poor. Dad grew up in a middle income family and money was tight because he was getting his business going. I learned from him the values of hard work and saving.  So, even though I was poor growing up and when my wife and I were first married, by saving and being disciplined, we have managed to become financially secure. Dr. Payne’s work was based on American society, but I assume it would translate for Canadian society as well.

The main point is this, often well-meaning middle-class people can set out to help the “poor” by offering financial programs erroneously thinking that the “poor” just need more education and opportunity. While it’s true that education and opportunity are necessary bridges out of poverty, it’s wrong to think that if they are offered for free, the working poor will see the fantastic opportunity before them and pursue it.  The “middle class planning poor” probably would, but the “working poor” probably would not. It takes long-term relationships with generational low-income people to help them out of poverty and an understanding of the values they hold dear. You can’t impose your values on them and just say “here’s the plan….work it and you’ll be successful.” I think Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University stuff is good. But, it’s designed for people with a middle-class mindset and value structure. The same principles are lost in translation with most generationally low-income people.