Participants for the communications trainings were selected by Hewlett Foundation program officers, who made their decisions based on a variety of criteria, including perceived communications need and potential, and with the intent to offer this opportunity equitably across Hewlett Foundation program areas.

Communications training at a glance (click  model to enlarge)

Three types of training were offered at different times to distinctive groups of grantees. The most common experience was a comprehensive three-day session designed for a large, diverse selection of Hewlett Foundation grantees across a variety of issue areas with a mixed set of skills and experience. Tailored training programs were offered to selected groups of grantees working in particular issue areas or geographic locations. Additionally, a more intensive program brought individual nonprofit executives together three times over the course of a year to study communications principles and practices in depth.

An important component to these training programs, Spitfire Strategies has been engaged by the Hewlett Foundation since 2005 to design and deliver training sessions customized to the needs of individual organizations selected to participate. Spitfire also led the year-long intensive training experience geared exclusively for nonprofit executives, including Hewlett-sponsored participants since 2005. All training sessions the Foundation offered its grantees during the five years studied made use of the Smart Chart®, a Spitfire planning tool, and involved Spitfire instructors.

Participants by Training Experience (click  table below to enlarge)

The following matrix describes the distribution of training participants over types of training experiences and years training sessions were offered.


While training experiences varied, each involved presentations, hands-on work sessions and group dialogue. Most sessions took place over the course of two to five days, with a few sessions spanning several days over several months. Follow-up technical assistance was offered in all cases, although not all participants took advantage of it. Training covered a number of topics with emphasis on communications strategy and audience messaging, as well as key tactics, including presentation delivery and storytelling.

Agenda Topics

  • Planning strategic communications
  • Setting clear communications objectives
  • Identifying target audiences
  • Crafting clear, compelling messages
  • Communicating what my organization does in three minutes or less
  • Capturing communications stories about my organization’s work
  • Developing effective PowerPoint® presentations
  • Engaging policymakers
  • Earning media coverage
  • Leveraging social media

Measuring Immediate Training Effects

Before and after each training session, the training provider surveyed participants to understand their communications knowledge and to identify changes in this regard. In all areas of training emphasis, participants reported improvements following training. The Hewlett Foundation acknowledges that the ratings reflect participants’ self-perceptions and that participants may have been somewhat biased in over-reporting improvements. Nevertheless, the interview data and third-party assessments by the Williams Group team similarly suggest that participants’ communications knowledge improved, at least to some degree, over the course of training.

Click the table below to enlarge.