Infographics for Nonprofits: The New Storytelling

26 Comments 06 September 2011


Infographics are multiplying like rabbits. I run across them everywhere, and about all types of subjects from the power of social fundraising to the what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Some are great, some not so great. The abundance of data we now have to process is fueling the trends towards content curation, data consolidation tools, and information visualization. As Beth Kanter remarked on a public Google Plus thread about creating useful infographics, “I think that information visualization is a necessity in this age of data overload and seeing the forest beyond the trees.” I agree with that statement, and personally jump to view the “shiny new storytelling toy” whenever I see an infographic. Infographics represent an exciting new storytelling avenue for nonprofit organizations, enabling them to share important data stories, visually.

Infographics as storytelling

Infographics represent a natural extension of storytelling: telling the story of data. It’s not a coincidence that storytelling is growing as we struggle to understand all the information coming at us and overcome cause fatigue. Karen Dietz, who uses storytelling to help business grow, says that “infographics are another form of visual storytelling and many of the same oral storytelling principles apply. We’ll be sorting out the issues of authenticity and key messaging and quality as infographics become more popular and easier to produce.” And therein lies the rub: quality. Just as all stories are not created equally, neither are all infographics.

Passing the infographics litmus test

What makes a great infographic? Urs Gattiker, Chief Technology Officer of ComMetrics, frames it perfectly: “The question is, can viewers see the overall shape of the data more easily and quickly with infographics than any other visual aid? Most infographics fail this acid test.” Urs Gattiker’s ComMetrics blog post describes in detail what makes an infographic dashboard or design useful. (It’s chock full of great resources and data.)

Dave, of Communication Nation, created a “manifesto” of what makes a good infographic:

1. It’s a visual explanation that helps you more easily understand, find or do something.
2. It’s visual, and when necessary, integrates words and pictures in a fluid, dynamic way.
3. It stands alone and is completely self-explanatory.
4. It reveals information that was formerly hidden or submerged.
5. It makes possible faster, more consistent understanding.
6. It’s universally understandable.

I would add to this list: The reader does not have to search for the key data points or key story elements.

As Urs points out in the comments below, it takes quite a bit of time and skill to create a good infographic. A non-profit needs either money to work with the right designer or have a designer on staff to create a good one. However, you can experiment with some of the DIY infographic tools listed in the infographic ideas and resources at the bottom of the post.

5 ways that nonprofits can utilize infographics

There are a lot of great ways that nonprofit organizations can utilize infographics. Below are five ideas for nonprofits who want to tell stories using infographics. Feel free to add to this with your examples and ideas.

1. Show the need for a program. This infographic illustrates the need for clean drinking water. This infographic from the World Wildlife Federation shows the impact of climate change in the coral triangle region of the world.

2. Visualize the data from a report, such as this infographic summarizing the eNonprofit Benchmarks study.

3. Move people to action. Voices for America’s Children created an infographic showing where children live in poverty in the USA, overlaid with where the important elected officials live. The infographic is located adjacent to its “take action” online letter to elected officials.

4. Donation impact. Charity:water created an infographic called How Your Birthday Can Change the World to show the impact of donations.

5. Impact of services. The American Red Cross’ infographic illustrates the many ways that they are helping victims of US natural disasters.

Infographics ideas and resources

Looking for ideas and inspiration? has a pool of community-created infographics that you can subscribe to by RSS. For storytelling inspiration, check out Wilton Blake’s curated topic “Storytelling = Nonprofit Sustainability” and Jennifer King’s “Storytelling for Social Change” curated topic. Jonha Revsencio curates the topic “Awesome Infographics,” Also worth looking through is the Flickr infographics pool. Beth Kanter writes, “Can Stories be Data?,” postulating that storytelling is as much about the stories as it is about the data, while making sense of the data that comes from stories.

Looking for tools? Create and explore your own data visualizations with (and this article about it). Check out Wild Apricot’s blog post on tools to make your own infographic. Get started with creating your own charts, diagrams, and more: 32 free tools to create different diagrams. Fast Company reviews the five best free tools for making slick infographics.




Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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