Nonprofit Data Visualization: How To Tell Stories With Data?
Every nonprofit needs to look closely at their data. Whether you are analyzing internal data to see whether you have been reaching your goals or want to show potential donors the importance of what you do, nobody can argue with concrete data and facts.
The problem is that understanding all your data can be confusing, especially if you are presenting all that data to potential donors who are not used to analyzing Excel sheets. That is where data visualization comes into play.
Data visualization is the art of presenting data in a visual manner. Data tells a story, but it’s not always possible to understand that story when looking at sheets full of information; the average non data scientist just can’t connect the dots and put everything together with just a glance.
Sometimes, you will have a mental storyline in your head about your nonprofit: What you are doing, how you are using funds that you raise, the direction in which you are headed, how close you are to meeting your goals, how many donors you are attracting, how much money is coming in, and so on.
However, that story might not be accurate, despite how much you want to believe it. To truly know the story of your nonprofit, you need to listen to the story the data is telling you.
To understand that story, you need data visualization. If you look at a spreadsheet full of data, your brain just won’t be able to instantly understand the story the data is telling you.
You may get a clearer picture after analyzing the data thoroughly, but not everyone has the time for that. Even then, you may miss out on important details that can change the storyline dramatically.
Data visualization is part of data science. It uses colors, trend lines, and other visual graphics, so our brains can quickly take in various data points and understand how that information points to a trend.
It also allows us to understand outliers. We can understand how input relates to output, cause and effect, and whether we are on track to achieve the goals we set for ourselves within the time limits we established.
After collecting all your data meticulously, data visualization allows you to lay out that data in an easy to understand manner through graphs, charts, infographics, and more.
Through those charts and other methods of data visualization, your data can come together to tell a story about your nonprofit.
As an example of how data visualization can turn boring lines of data into an easy to understand graphic, take a look at this sheet with data about CO2 emissions based on industry for different countries, courtesy of US News:
We’ll be focusing on the United States for the purpose of this article. By just looking at that sheet, it can be hard to immediately get a good picture of which sectors are responsible for the most CO2 emissions.
By taking that data and turning it into a bar chart, like the one below, you can quickly see that the Electricity & Heat and Transport sectors are responsible for the vast majority of CO2 emissions in the United States, while international aviation doesn’t actually contribute much to CO2 emissions (which may come as a surprise to many).
Data visualization has both internal and external use cases for nonprofits. For internal use, it can help you keep track of how well you are using funds you raised, for example.
You can also use data visualization to see how your marketing and advertising campaigns are holding up and whether they are bringing in satisfactory results. Data visualization can even be used to show you how well team members are contributing to the growth of your nonprofit.
For external use, data visualization can be used to show potential donors the awesome work your nonprofit is doing and the results you are getting. You can also use data visualization to tell a compelling story of why your nonprofit is needed in this world.
Following are some specific instances in which data visualization can be helpful.
Your nonprofit is likely trying to solve a specific problem in this world. Whether you’re raising funds for sick kids, to rescue animals, to stop plastic pollution, to fight hate and discrimination, or something else, there is a problem that needs to be solved, and your mission is to resolve it.
However, while you may understand the need for what you are doing, not everyone else will. For that, you can use data visualization to help people grasp the magnitude of the problem.
Use charts and infographics to help people understand the data involved.
To keep donors interested, and to attract new donors, you will also have to demonstrate your success in solving the problem.
Whether you’re holding a fundraiser or providing a yearly or monthly update on your work, data visualization allows you to demonstrate how many people you helped or the extent of your impact on the world.
If your nonprofit is running marketing and advertising campaigns, you need to make sure you are getting good results. As a nonprofit, you can’t afford to spend your money unwisely.
Data visualization helps you understand the returns you are getting from your advertising campaigns.
In turn, that will help you understand which campaigns to keep and which to discard. Some campaigns might not be bringing you the results you thought they were.
It is also important for all nonprofit team members to be contributing equally, so your nonprofit can move forward. Whether you are working with volunteers or are paying your team a salary, you need to understand which team members are bringing great results and which are wasting your resources.
If you are holding events for the purpose of fundraising or raising awareness, data visualization can allow you to track the success of those events.
There are many types of charts and graphs you can use to display data. Some of them will be more comprehensive and allow you to compare different data points, while others will focus on presenting a single data point.
Let’s go over some of the more common data visualization techniques.
Bar graphs use bars (usually horizontal bars) to compare variables. An example of a bar graph is displayed above on the topic of CO2 emissions.
A bar chart allows you to quickly compare the impact of different causes and effects, and it is useful when you have a lot of variables to compare.
Line charts use lines to identify trends and see whether usage or output has peaked during certain time periods. They are best for data that you are tracking over a long period of time.
Pie charts are also used to compare variables. They use a pie, divided into different sections, to display the proportion of a certain variable compared to others.
It helps you quickly identify things such as where the bulk of your money has been spent. It is best when you only have 5-10 variables, because when you have too many inputs, the slices will become very small, and it will be hard to compare them accurately.
Scatter plots help you compare two variables and identify trends by adding data across an x- and y-axis.
You can add a third variable by using different colors and changing the size of the bubbles scattered on the x- and y-axis.
Naps are a great way to display a problem or demonstrate the positive impact you have been having in different parts of the world or in different regions.
For example, you can display a map of the world or your country and color code it, depending on the severity of the issue you are trying to solve.
A speedometer graph displays a specific variable as compared to an end goal. For example, you may have fed 7,500 children out of your goal to feed 10,000 children that month.
Timelines are excellent for demonstrating your achievements over a time period. For example, you can show how many cats you have rescued in the past few years, or you can show how you otherwise came closer and closer to reaching your goals.
Infographics are great for external data visualization, such as when you want to display various important data points relating to the problems you are trying to solve and the work you have been doing.
Sometimes, you’ll want to show how different segments of a population compared to each other. For example, you might want to show how much food different percentages of the population have access to.
In that case, you can use a pyramid chart.
There are many great tools you can use for data visualization purposes as a nonprofit. I’m going to try to focus more on free tools, as your budget may be limited.
Tableau is one of the foremost data visualization and data intelligence software tools on the market, allowing you to present various data visualization charts and graphs on a single page, so you can get a quick overview of what you are doing and where you’re heading.
Tableau Public is the free version, but keep in mind that pages published are public on the web. As a nonprofit, however, you can also apply for a free license for the desktop version.
Power BI is like Tableau. It also has a free version, which is great for nonprofits.
Keep in mind that the free Power BI license allows you to download the software to your desktop and create visualizations there, but you won’t be able to use it in the cloud unless you pay for a premium version.
While Tableau and Power BI are giant, comprehensive software solutions, Infogram is for creating simple, easy to understand graphs and charts.
You can copy and paste data from a spreadsheet to instantly generate charts and graphs you can then publish on the web. A free plan is available.
OpenHeatMap is an awesome, free tool you can use to create map visualizations. After uploading your geographical based data, the tool will create a heatmap.
Canva is a free tool for creating infographics and other visuals. You can then publish those infographics on your blog or social media channels.
DataViz For Nonprofits is a data visualization service designed specifically to help nonprofits visualize important data in charts and graphs.
While not free, they do provide you with a custom consultation and then create the visualizations for you, unlike the other tools in which you would have to do the work yourself.
To get started, you’ll need to ensure you are using good software. You can use some of the tools above if your budget is limited.
You also need to make sure you are collecting the data properly. A data visualization tool is only a later step in data science.
If the data you collect is misleading or not entirely accurate, the data visualization will tell a very different story than the truth. That’s why it’s important to ensure you are tracking your data correctly using the proper tools.
You may want to hire someone who is a specialist in data visualization. You need someone who is a good storyteller, so to speak, when it comes to data; someone who knows which is the right chart or graph to use for which purpose and which data to include or exclude.
They’ll also know how to use the right colors and overall make the data easier to understand.
You can also use a full on data visualization service, like DataViz, which specializes in data visualization for nonprofits.
Finally, keep things simple. The entire reason data visualization works is that it takes complicated sheets of data and turns it into simple graphics that are easy for the brain to process in a few seconds.
Data visualization isn’t as complicated as it may seem.
With the right tools and with some basic skills, you can create beautiful visualizations that tell a compelling story.
Priyanka heads the Client Servicing team at Ebizon. With over 10+ years of impressive experience in technology consulting and software project management, she has worked with clients from diverse industries including Ecommerce, Retail, Education, Healthcare and Publishing. With deep tech industry knowledge, Priyanka is known for bridging the gap between those who are highly technical and those who are business minded. She was also invited by Drupal4Design Camp held at MIT, Boston to present Case Study on “Scaling Drupal with Confidence “.