Communications materials submitted ranged widely in purpose and quality but may reflect a typical cross-section of nonprofit capabilities in this area.

When asked to submit a few materials and/or tools they consider to be most important to their communications, interview subjects responded in a number of ways. Some chose not to send materials; in these cases, the interviewer visited the organization’s website to gain a cursory sense of communications in application. Materials submitted represent a great variety, including:

  • Websites or key web sections
  • Online media and data centers
  • Electronic newsletters and more targeted email announcements
  • Basic print collateral pieces, most of which were also available electronically, though some organizations have not formatted print materials for easy online use
  • Special publication inserts or promotions
  • Issue-specific reports and briefings
  • Case statements for support of the organization or an issue
  • Videos promoting organization or a campaign and housed on YouTube

The quality of materials varied significantly. Perhaps predictably, larger organizations with more sizeable staffs and communications resources tended to produce more sophisticated, professional and presumably effective communications while smaller, less robust organizations struggled to generate quality materials.

Though some indicated that training’s primary value was improving their skills for creating communications tactics, such as presentations and websites, few organizations with successful communications materials indicated that training was a great influence. Training content on PowerPoint presentation was most highly regarded, though none among those interviewed chose to submit a presentation for assessment. Those who did link training to improvements in communications materials suggested that training occurred at an opportune time in the development of those materials. Multiple interview subjects were in the midst of a web design/redesign process at the time of training and found training timely and helpful in that regard. Training coverage of social media received mixed reviews.


Media mix

Our website is most important. We’re also on Facebook, though I’m not sure how much we’ve gained from that. We’re on Twitter and we do have followers, and our PR person who does the tweeting gets reTweeted a lot. We have a well-maintained e-mailing list of 30,000.

Our new website launched [six months ago]. Our blog was a new addition. By far this is the most popular mode of rapid communication for us. I post every day and then I tweet and post links back to the site on Facebook.

Our policy briefs are a distillation of our discussions and research and analysis. Our newsletter is a periodic record, a reminder about our historical story. Our website is our greatest tool. We started working on it more than a year ago and it’s almost fully functional now. We use it for immediate posts, news briefs…  We do a blog. We have a resource library. We try to draw our partners to the site on a weekly basis.

We are very careful about sending out email announcements, and I think folks appreciate that, they look for our emails, and we get an amazing response.

Awareness of issues

Don’t even get me started on our website. We have big issues. We have a ton of resources. Our site is extremely static and doesn’t get updated very often. We did some surveying… People said, too many clicks, the navigation was too difficult, the design was lackluster, and it’s dense—lots of words. I see web as a critical tool—but other departments do not feel they need it as much. (Outlier)

Our website is not great right now. We are working on a new one.

We have packets that describe our work, our organization, and our programs. We use them in meetings, in introductions to new partners or funders, and for presentations. The packets are dense and fairly static. (Outlier)

Training influence

We learned about PowerPoint formatting. That was great. We do PowerPoint in a different way today.

Training helped me shape my organization’s presentations. Personally and for my program I took presentations to a new level. This was easy to apply immediately.

We send [email announcements] about our latest programs, and we always have some type of action tied to [the announcement]—we learned that in training.

[Training] on presentations, storytelling, websites, speeches—that was all hugely helpful. [To our surprise, the presenter] put up our old website as a bad example. We took his advice as we were in the midst of redoing our website.

[After a presentation on websites], I spoke with the presenter and talked about our model and our uncertainties about how to use the web [to support it]. He mapped out an approach, and we will be testing out that approach soon.

[Training] influenced our new website and content management system, which are integral to our work. This will give us presence and that will definitely impact our organization… I can’t say that [communications training] has [affected our impact] yet.

In the past, we had a small media section on our website but after training were more motivated to make our information more accessible online. [Today, our web tools make it] accessible and easy to use for anyone looking for the latest information.

We were in the middle of a web redesign—a lot of what we learned went into that web redesign.

At the time, my current concern was our website. I didn’t find the course very helpful on that front. It completely focused on strategy and audience identification, tools, and tactics—with the web as one example. It would have been helpful to spend more time on tying [web] strategy to how to implement it. One omission was social media.

A board member had recommended engaging audiences [via social media]. We never seriously thought about it before, but we learned about it [at training] and talked to our peers. We decided that even if social marketing was not going to be the most effective way to engage our target audiences right now, it will be in five years. We wanted to get in, get our staff used to it.

The stuff about social media seemed a little squishy; we know we need to do a better job here.

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