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Communications Assessment Made Easy

In an earlier post, I singled out The Foundation Review (TFR) as a then new publication worth taking a closer look at, notably because the editors recognize the importance of communications to foundation effectiveness.

It was especially gratifying to see that last February’s fourth issue, which marked the end of the Review’s first year, was devoted exclusively to an exploration of the strategic use of communications within and among foundations.

At the time, Teri Behrens, TFR’s editor, said the topic merited that coverage due to increasing reliance among foundations on “strategic communications, either directly or through grantees, to further their social change agendas and to work towards their missions.”

It’s just as gratifying — again — to see that the Review, is starting its second year with another valuable article focused on communications. This time, Assessing Nonprofits’ Communications Capacity: An Online Assessment Tool brings important attention to a tool that can help nonprofits, as well as their foundation supporters, that want to determine the strength and weaknesses of their communications capacity and take steps to improve it.

Authors Anne Reisinger Whatley, and R, Christine Hershey, both of Cause Communications, along with Andre Oliver, a communications strategist, and Julia Coffman of the Center for Evaluation Innovation, describe work being they’ve been spearheading to encourage more organizations to look closely at their communications activities. As they note, the timing is right for this kind of assessment.

They write:

Several trends in the field– an emphasis on effectiveness, demands for accountability and good governance, diminishing resources for nonprofits and a new technological landscape — increase the necessity for vehicles that help organizations ensure that their communications capacity and approaches are truly aligned to achieve their goals.

The authors describe their Communications Effectiveness Index (which you can read more about online at a dedicated website here) as a way to identify “the characteristics and practices of organizations that are ranked as highly effective at using communications to advance their goals.”

They are:

  1. Their leaders play an active role in communications.
  2. They have donors that understand the importance of communications and provide the resources to back it up.
  3. Communications planning is done in concert with organization-wide planning.
  4. They have the right staff for the right jobs, and get help when needed.
  5. They master the basics and go beyond.
  6. They evaluate their work to better gauge successes and areas for improvement.

The authors also say their tool — which you can access free here — is short and confidential, and through targeted questions, it enables respondents to gauge their capacity “relative to those in the Communications Capacity Index.” They add that this tool can also help “funders better understand where prospective grantees are along an effectiveness continuum and where additional support might be needed to achieve objectives.”

To that latter point, the authors say foundations would be well-served to introduce prospective grantees to the tool during the application process so they can determine the state of their communications capacity and what other resources they might need.

Similarly, once they have the results, foundations can use the findings to work with grantees on addressing any deficiencies that are uncovered.

Hat tip both to Foundation Review for demonstrating, again, that communications is not an afterthought, but central to foundation work, and to the authors of the article for making a compelling case for why assessment matter.

–Bruce Trachtenberg

Communications Network members are entitled to a 10% discount when subscribing to the Foundation Review. Go to; use code CN10. You can also subscribe over the phone by calling 1-800-627-0326.


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