Article by Matthew Scharpnick posted on Philanthropy.com, 6 January, 2012
Nonprofits have long relied on stories to help stir emotion.
However, as the nonprofit world has evolved, so, too, has the need to communicate more than just emotion. Foundations and corporate supporters increasingly want to see numbers that show that nonprofits are delivering results. Donors want to see metrics to help them understand why they should contribute to one cause over another.
Unfortunately, statistics about an organization’s work aren’t as emotionally engaging as a photograph of a child in need. Numbers and percentages don’t appeal to our sense of compassion, and looking at graphs feels too academic to be enjoyable for most people.
Put simply, data can be really boring. But organizations can find digestible and compelling ways to show their quantitative results.
Graphical representations of information, known as infographics, can help nonprofits weave anecdotes and rock-solid evidence into beautiful stories that appeal to both the head and the heart.
Well-designed infographics can convey complex information in surprisingly engaging ways, and their popularity is skyrocketing. Type “infographics” into a Google search and you will see them by the hundreds on topics as varied as the U.S. debt and how much you can drink at an office party.
Nonprofits are among the many types of organizations increasingly trying to present data in visually striking ways.
Voices for America’s Children, an advocacy organization, has created basic infographics that do a good job of bringing personality to topics such as health, education, and government spending.
Product (Red), which supports programs to curb AIDS in Africa, has produced more sophisticated examples. The organization’s Web site does a great job mixing data with maps, videos, and profiles of people its donations have aided. In an instant, you learn that Product (Red)’s sales have raised more than $180-million for its charitable efforts and have helped more than 7.5 million people.
Architecture for Humanity, which offers pro bono architectural and design services to building projects around the world, uses infographics to quickly convey its complicated mission. That came after it realized its constituents had trouble understanding the nature of the organization’s many activities and asked my company, Elefint Designs, to create an infographic that communicates details that would otherwise require long conversations or extensive passages of text.
Whether they are bringing attention to an important cause, explaining their internal operations, or demonstrating the impact of their work, nonprofits can use infographics to present data in a way that is far more engaging and efficient than what could be conveyed with words alone. Coupled with traditional storytelling, the use of infographics gives organizations a powerful tool to demonstrate their achievements in a way that will get viewers both emotionally and intellectually involved.
Matthew Scharpnick is a co-founder and the chief strategy officer at Elefint Designs, which recently started a new Web site, infogra.ph, that uses infographics to help nonprofits advance understanding of complex issues.