Why Communications Training?

Success in achieving each nonprofit organization’s mission depends on attracting, engaging and moving the right decisionmakers to action. Communications—the work of creating understanding among the people whose behavior matters most to a mission—is a vital function. The absence of adequate communications renders even the best nonprofit intentions and actions unnoticed, misunderstood, and ineffective. Successful nonprofits view and support communications as integral to their overall strategy and a lever to create the change they seek.

To advance nonprofit communications, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has offered an intensive, multi-day training experience to leaders within grantee organizations. Over the course of five years, hundreds of nonprofit practitioners have taken this opportunity to build their communications capabilities with the aim of increasing their organizational effectiveness.

Learn more about the training and the 2010 study to understand its effectiveness.

Past and recent surveys, interview conversations and live observation of training suggest that training quality was high. Most training participants count the training opportunity sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation among the most interactive and useful training sessions they have experienced.

Communications training may be one ingredient in increasing an organization’s communications capabilities. Other essentials include leaders who endorse and support communications, and available human and financial resources. Organizations poised to take greatest advantage of communications training were those also experiencing a period of positive transition.

Though the Hewlett Foundation-sponsored training experience was high quality, surveys and interviews suggested four main opportunities to improve it: ensuring readiness, inviting participation by leadership teams, conducting robust follow-up, and integrating communications with program strategy.

Grantmaker Tools

Foundations may find these tools helpful in selecting the right participants for communications training and for strengthening post-training follow-up with help from foundation program officers.

readiness checklist

participant check-in

Nonprofit Capability

Forty of the Hewlett Foundation grantees who received training took part in an hour-long phone interview and submitted communications planning documentation and key communications materials for review. Following are observations resulting from these interviews.


  1. Communications planning
  2. Target audiences
  3. Messaging
  4. Materials
  5. Measurement
  6. Capacity
  7. Leadership buy-in and support
  8. Mission impact
  9. Training experience