Communications training may be one ingredient in increasing an organization’s communications capabilities. Other essential characteristics include:

  • Leaders who endorse and support communications as a means of advancing the organization’s goals, and communications is generally valued and supported by the culture of the organization.
  • Human and financial resources that are available to invest in additional communications strategy and implementation subsequent to training.

In addition to demonstrating these critical characteristics, organizations poised to take greatest advantage of communications training also experienced a period of positive transition—such as the startup of an organization, the addition of a new leader, the infusion of new funding and/or the establishment of a new program—giving communications lessons learned immediate relevance and application.

Organizations in all of the above circumstances credited training with increasing their awareness of the importance of communications, and therefore, their support of it. As a result, these organizations often allocated more funding to communications relative to their total budgets, and many also fortified their teams with additional communications staff or hired communications professionals on a contract basis.

For most organizations, a single training experience may build individual awareness, appreciation, and skill—but those gains are not likely to increase over time, spread to others, or transform the organization as a whole without additional, ongoing support.

Although communications planning was a significant focus of the training experience, of the 38 organizations for which individual training participants were interviewed in this study, only eight were able to produce communications plans or strategic plans including a significant communications component. Ten others shared other communications planning-related materials, such as messaging documents, communications calendars, or simple documentation of major planning ideas.

Some organizations reported shortfalls in human and financial resources they believe critical to carrying out their communications strategies. Small organizations, when compared to medium and large organizations, reported more frequently that they did not have the knowledge, staffing, or resources to promote the use of communications in their organizations.

In addition to reporting that lack of organizational resources undercut the effects of training, respondents cautioned that training alone does not improve an organization’s communications and impact. For example, some commented that the Hewlett Foundation-sponsored training experience was one of many opportunities to learn and grow, and it was encountered in the midst of organizational challenges—some directly and others indirectly related to communications.

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Comparing Self-Evaluations

The tables that follow compare average scores on communications capability and knowledge from self-evaluations completed by participants in the most typical training experience within 30 days prior to training, immediately following training (where data were available), and from a recent online survey. Though training participants reported increases in their capabilities immediately following training, these self-ratings did not change substantially over time.

Similar survey questions were posed to a small group (85 invited, 38 responded) of Hewlett Foundation grantees that did not receive training. No inferences could be made about these self-ratings on communications capabilities and knowledge; these ratings did not vary significantly from ratings training participants gave themselves in a recent survey. The sample of non-trained grantees included approximately 10% more executive directors than the sample of trained survey respondents. The non-trained grantee group also included more mature organizations than the group of training participants. Finally, it may be that members of the non-trained grantee group were not selected to receive training because they were in less need of communications coaching or because they were not positioned to make use of it.

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