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Lisa Habersack
by Lisa Habersack

How to Use Data to Tell Your Nonprofit’s Story Online

You know the importance of monitoring and evaluation in your programs—donors want to see measurable progress in the lives of your beneficiaries, and you want to collect information that can help you better serve your mission. With all the effort you put into acquiring and analyzing program data, shouldn’t you be putting it to work in more ways than one?

By using your data to tell the story of your nonprofit, you accomplish multiple objectives:

1.     You position your organization as a thought leader in your field because you have data to back up your perspectives.

2.     You increase the reach of your content, because people love to share data—it’s more valuable than opinions and simple stories because by nature it is time-consuming (and often expensive!) to collect and analyze.

3.     You build the credibility of your organization, as one who is committed to learning and growing through thoughtful analysis of your work.

How to Find the Story in your Data.

Take an inventory of what data you have. Is there detailed information on a demographic that is often overlooked in the media? Do you have long-term data that might show interesting trends over time? The most compelling data for online audiences is data that fills a gap in common knowledge and teaches the reader something new or surprising.

Rather than starting with an idea and trying to find data to support it, look for stories within your data. For example, maybe you notice that the number of young women participating in your science workshops increased steadily over the past five years—you have a story! Or perhaps you are a city-based environmental conversation organization, and one neighborhood within your city has significantly higher recycling rates than others—that’s a story, too! If a data point makes you want to know more, chances are your online audience will be just as curious.

How to Share your Data Online.

Once you’ve decided which data points from your work are most interesting to external audiences, it’s time to integrate the data into a share-worthy medium that reaches your target audience. Consider these three top methods for delivering your data.

1.   Create an interesting infographic

Admit it: when you see a well-designed infographic related to a topic that’s interesting to you, you read the whole thing, and maybe even share it with your friends. Infographics capture our attention online because they are intentionally designed to cater toward internet users’ short attention spans and desire to consume information quickly.

While you can’t go wrong with producing an infographic that summarizes your impact in numbers, thinking more creatively about your approach is more likely to get you the social media shares that will increase the reach of your story and introduce more people to your organization. For example, if your nonprofit receives a lot of support from volunteers, create an infographic titled “What Motivates Volunteers in San Francisco?” based on your most recent volunteer survey. Be sure to include your logo and a line about who you are at the bottom, to invite viewers to learn more.

Don’t have any bandwidth in the graphic design department? Not to worry, there are plenty of free and low-cost tools to creating stunning, interactive infographics. Check out PiktoChart, Canva, and Venngage to start.

2.   Write an informative blog post.

Whether you don’t have quite enough interesting data to fill out an infographic, or you simply want to ‘follow the story’ more deeply on 1-3 data points, a blog post is a versatile medium for sharing your data online. When data points leave you asking questions, try reaching out to subject matter experts or even program participants to get their take on the data. Including multiple perspectives through quotes shows that your organization is thoughtful about important questions, without being too prescriptive with your own hypotheses for why the data shows a particular trend.

Consider creating a blog post series, where you look at the story behind a different piece of data each week for a month. At the end of each post, encourage readers to sign up to receive email updates to be sure they get the full story as the data is revealed.

Tip for maximizing impact: If you create an infographic, feature it in a ‘behind the scenes’ blog post detailing where the data came from and why you think the infographic resonated so well with others (a little humble brag about the number of times it was shared on Facebook won’t hurt either).

3.   Produce a catchy video.

While nonprofit videos are often time-consuming and expensive to produce, the reality can be quite different when your data is the star of the show. Forget the camera crew! By using resources you already have on hand—data and still photos from your work—you can easily create a powerful video that captures the attention of your audience online. The key is keeping your video short and to the point, with the goal of inspiring the viewer to want to learn more. 

If you want to include information that shows the extent of the problem you are working to solve, be sure to balance it with positive data showing your progress. Doom and gloom without answers will not motivate people to click ‘share’. Tools you can use to create super-simple data-driven videos include Animoto and Shakr.

Data can also be an important element of a more in-depth explainer video that you produce as a marketing tool for your organization. Learn why nonprofits should consider an animated video.

 Tip for increasing video views: When sharing your video on Facebook, don’t simply paste the YouTube link and call it a day. By uploading the video directly to Facebook’s video platform, you can ensure that the video will be featured prominently in users’ newsfeeds and will play within the app.

Continue the Conversation.

Once you have put your data out into the world, you now have a story that can continue to be tracked! Consider doing one-year or six-month updates to revisit the data-based story you posted and inform your followers of how things have changed or stayed the same, and what new insights you have learned along the way. Don’t forget to track your own data to see which topics your audience found compelling and clicked most. You’ll be on your way to being the go-to organization for learning and impact in your field.  

Finally, you’ll want to think through how to create your nonprofit social media calendar to ensure your strategy for rolling out all your exciting new data goes smoothly.

Side note: Ever heard of Google's nonprofit program?

Did you know Google provides nonprofits with $10,000 per month in free advertising credit? This program is known as Google Grants and it's available to almost every 501c3 nonprofit organization. Learn how we can help you get the most out of the Google Grant program. Click below to get started!
There's a smarter way to do Google Grants.

Lisa Habersack

Lisa Habersack
Lisa is an award-winning social impact storyteller with 10 years of experience working in the nonprofit sector. She helps nonprofits—ranging from start-ups to international development agencies—tell stories that inspire, engage, and connect. Learn more at www.lisahabersack.com.

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