Using Nonprofit Data to Improve Your Storytelling

Nonprofit Data to Improve Storytelling

There’s no shortage of folks touting the importance of effective storytelling.  I should know – I’m one of ‘em.

Although recently I’ve been hearing something that makes my inner data nerd alarmed.  At times it seems that data and storytelling are seen as at odds with one another.  Storytelling is exciting.  Data is boring.

But this need not be the case.  Effective use of data should make your story far more compelling.

Data Shows Breadth

In effective storytelling, you generally want to focus on specifics.  An individual person facing a tough situation.  A family impacted by your organization.  An event that required your nonprofit to get involved.

Specifics are easier for us to picture.  They help stoke a website visitor’s emotion, making it more likely your message will resonate and drive them to take action.

Such things are wonderful.  But they’re only half of the equation.

Most people aren’t donating to your organization to help you improve the life on one single person.  They want your organization to have a wide impact.  That’s where data becomes so important.

After you’ve established an emotional connection through storytelling, use data to show the breadth of not only the problem you’re addressing, but also your impact.  Show that these things aren’t merely isolated to a handful of individuals.

A visitor may not be able to picture 100,000 displaced refugees.  But if you detail the experience of a single family displaced from their home, then show how widespread the problem is by sharing a figure like 100,000, it can be very moving.

And moving your website visitors increases the likelihood they’ll get involved.

Data Shows Accountability

Sharing data effectively throughout your storytelling also shows your organization has a grasp of the situation.  You understand the scope of the problem you’re addressing since you’ve been able to quantify it.  And you know what impact you and your donors are able to have in the community.

Just like with storytelling, share very specific data points.  Tell what an individual donation will enable you to purchase and, to the best of your ability, quantify the impact that’ll have in a person’s life.

Maybe you know there are 60,000 people living in a region of a country without access to clean drinking water.  Tell one person’s story, rich with detail illuminating the difficulties they face.  Then show this problem is widespread by sharing that 60,000 people in the surrounding area are also struggling in a similar way.  But then share that a $250 donation can bring clean drinking water to 10 people.

You’ve taken your visitor on a journey using not only storytelling, but also data.

You Must Tell the Story in Your Data

Data is only valuable if you have the necessary context to understand what it means.

Numbers don’t matter to people in their own right.  It’s your job to tell the story behind the numbers.  Tell people why they matter.  Show why they’re important.

To a visitor that doesn’t understand how awful malaria is, the fact that 1 out of every 20 kids born in a specific community contracts malaria won’t matter all that much.  But to someone with knowledge of the disease and its impact on these kids’ lives, such stats can be heartbreaking.

Give your visitors the context they need to understand your data.

Be Picky with Your Data

All too often website visitors are drowned in data.  It’s appealing after you come up with a whole bunch of exciting data to dump it all into a long blog post.  But avoid that temptation.

Instead, pick out the data that’s most poignant, package it effectively with complementary stories rich in context, and share it all in a way that’s easy to understand.

By using data as a tool in your storytelling, you can boost its effectiveness tremendously.

How often do you incorporate data into your storytelling?  Or when do you find data to be most compelling?  Do you think data and storytelling are opposed, or can they coexist?

Related Reads

Nonprofit Website Analytics: Measuring What Matters

Website Data Most Nonprofits Should Be Tracking

The Impact of Small Moment Storytelling on Website Content

Using Emotion to Connect with Website Visitors

4 Ways to Write Better Fundraising Appeals

Image courtesy of Tom Brown, Flickr