Key Points

· Foundations increasingly recognize the importance of strategic and effective communications to advance their social-change goals. This article provides a framework that helps foundations to better understand the communications capacity of their grantee partners.

· Based on a detailed analysis of a survey of 529 foundations, universities and nonprofits, the authors created a six-point index that identifies the characteristics and practices of organizations that are ranked as highly effective at using communications to advance their goals.

· The six indicators are: Involvement of organization leadership in communications, communications planning and organization-wide planning, staffing and the use of outside expertise, donor understanding and support for communications, managing the communications basics, and the role of evaluation in communications.

· This article describes a self-assessment tool that allows organizations to compare their practices to those who participated in the national survey, and to the approaches identified in the index.

· Guidance on how foundations and grantees can use the self-assessment and Communications Effectiveness Index to inform planning, establish baseline capacities, direct or request resources such as funding for training, and evaluate effectiveness of communications efforts is also discussed.

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