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Does Communications Training Make A Difference?

Hewlett Foundation Learns From Its Grantees What Works (and What Doesn't)

Mar 03, 2011


Menlo Park, CA and Grand Rapids, MI – Many private foundations conduct communications training programs for their grantees. The goal is to help organizations learn how to create and implement effective communications strategies that make the most of foundations’ grantmaking. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has been conducting such programs for several years, but found itself asking a very simple question: Do they work?

A new study, commissioned by the Hewlett Foundation and conducted by Michigan-based communications firm Williams Group, provides important lessons for foundations that would like to strengthen the organizations they fund by offering communications training.

Williams Group assessed the various training programs the Hewlett Foundation has offered to its grantees over the years. Every program featured an emphasis on creating a solid communications strategy using the Smart Chart®, a planning tool developed by Spitfire Strategies.

Three findings emerged from the assessment:

1. The trainings are excellent. Williams Group had high praise for the quality of the training design and the staff who conducted the training.

2. Recruitment is key. Researchers confirmed that having the right mix of senior staff and implementers from an organization participate in training is a prerequisite for success. The researchers also confirmed that selecting organizations with the capability to implement the lessons of the training is critical.

3. Follow-up by foundations is essential. Training can be very helpful, but the best potential value from training lies in the follow-up between foundation program staff and their grantees.

“A strong communications strategy is an essential element of a strong organization,” said Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest. “We learned that the training programs can improve grantees’ skills, but that our foundation can do more to maximize the benefit of training.”

The study consisted of more than 200 online surveys and 40 in-depth interviews, and includes 10 short case studies that provide further insight into the effects of the training.

The executive summary can be downloaded from www.whatnonprofitssay.org, a website that also includes all the data from the surveys, case studies, interview text, and verbatim responses.

About Williams Group
Williams Group helps people and organizations do better through communication. Founded in 1978, the firm plans, designs, and manages strategic communication programs for a range of nonprofit and corporate clients. For more information, visit www.wgsite.com.

About The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has been making grants since 1967 to help solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. The Foundation concentrates its resources on activities in education, the environment, global development, performing arts, philanthropy, and population, and makes grants to support disadvantaged communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. A full list of all the Hewlett Foundation’s grants can be found here.

Contact: Eric Brown                             Contact: Mary Command
Communications Director                      Consultant and Principal
Hewlett Foundation                               Williams Group
650-234-4500                                       616-222-3600