How to Use Data Visualization to Tell a Story

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How to Use Data Visualization to Tell a Story

When you run a nonprofit, you want to be able to communicate information and data clearly. This article talks about how to use data visualization in storytelling. This practice maximizes the impact of your story and helps support some of the claims you make.

Data and numbers can help make clear what you do, prove your impact, and explain why people would want to invest or donate. Data can help show how you’re different than other organizations. And it can help convince people who are being careful with where they invest to give their dollars to you.

Well-designed data visualizations can show the general public trends, patterns, and insights at-a-glance. And they can do so in a way that just can’t be matched by text.

One of the toughest parts of using data to tell your story is that data can be hard to display clearly. After all, if you don’t have an audience of experts looking at the numbers, they may mean very little to people — and, in turn, be useless to the audience you’re trying to appeal to.

Here, we’ll tell you how to use data visualization in your visual storytelling to ensure you’re incorporating the data in a clear way. Here are some of the most helpful ideas for you to take advantage of.

Simplify!

One important part of displaying your data clearly on your website is making sure that there’s not too much of it. Too many numbers, and people can get bogged down or feel overwhelmed — then leave. Pick out only the most important statistics (maybe 3-5) you want to get across, the leave out the rest. If you feel they’re all important, pick the most important out to include on your site, then include the rest in a way that people can click into if they’re ready to go deeper.

Use Infographics

Infographics are single images that are designed clearly (and usually beautifully) with facts and numbers in them. Hire a designer (or try Canva – free for nonprofits) to create an infographic with your data, then include that infographic on your homepage. Infographics are useful tools because they also are easily capturable and shareable on social media, which can help your organization’s name and reach go farther without your having to work for it. Bonus if the infographic is designed to double as a social media meme or post.

Label Carefully

If you’re going to include numbers in a pie chart, bar chart, graph, etc. use labels to describe that data. However, be careful with your labeling so that it doesn’t backfire. Label every number with what that number is and indicates, but don’t go beyond that. The numbers and graphics should tell the story — you don’t need words to do that, too. Edward Tufte, a renowned teacher of how to use data visualization, talked about “chart junk”. Make sure you only include the most important, relevant, and useful information in your labels. Keep it clean!

Take Advantage of Colors

While color can be, and is, subjective, there are some things that are true nevertheless. Bright colors catch people’s eye easily, and they can be used for organization or categorization of information. Be sure to be consistent about color usage when you include it in your website design. For example, use red to show negative numbers and green to show positive numbers; if you’re including statistics about multiple countries, always use the same color to represent the same country, etc. Being consistent with color helps keep information streamlined.

Use Maps

Tell the story about what your money is doing or where it is going using maps. Label areas on the map with numbers associated there. Maps are easily recognizable and comprehensible to people, and they help people physically see the impact that you make and its scale.

You Need the Data

If you want to communicate a clear message on your non-profit’s website, you need to know how to use data visualization. However, you can’t just throw numbers up on a page and hope they work. Instead, you should tackle some specific, powerful data visualization techniques to make sure your data is clear and comprehensible. By taking some extra time to make sure everyone can understand what your data means, you can be sure it will make an impact and move your potential donors, volunteers, and supporters to action.

Thinking about using data visualization to tell a story in your next annual report? We can help you prove your impact to donors and grantors using visual storytelling … and data! Download our free Annual Report Prep Guide to get started.