When an author writes a book, they don’t begin writing without doing their research. They gather data on a subject first and use that information to create a narrative. For nonprofits, sharing stories about their organization, community, and constituents should be no different. The goal of data-driven storytelling for nonprofits is to engage the audience while preserving the integrity of the subject and remaining truthful to the research.
Data-driven storytelling allows organizations to demonstrate their impact with more color and tangible proof. It’s the difference between saying, “We help low-income kids graduate,” and, “We helped 20 high school students graduate high school and go college this year. And of those 20 students, 15 got a full ride to the college of their choice.”
Sharing personal and detailed stories like this adds credibility to your organization and shows the work you’re doing on a larger scale. It gets your nonprofit’s name out into the community, builds awareness, and positions you as a leader in your sector. Most importantly, sharing stories helps to generate support and create opportunities for the people you serve.
Here are five secrets to help your nonprofit tell its next data-driven story.
1. (HIGH-QUALITY) DATA IS YOUR SECRET SAUCE
The credibility of data-driven storytelling for nonprofits hinges on the quality and accuracy of the data. Sharing a story that’s more fiction than fact could cost your organization potential donors.
With that in mind, it’s critical for nonprofits to have an efficient process to collect and analyze data. An organization that’s using Excel spreadsheets or pen and paper will take much longer and have a harder time collecting, analyzing, and telling the same story as an organization that’s using case management software.
The key is to merge technology with human experience. Software eliminates many of the mundane “back office” tasks while providing analysis at speed and scale. By contrast, humans can harness their historical knowledge, experience, and most importantly, their empathy, to form stories they know will resonate with their community. Together, technology and humans have the power to shape these data-driven stories and transform lives.
2. NUMBERS ARE NOT ENOUGH
Numbers and statistics are essential when telling data-driven stories as a nonprofit. However, they should be supporting elements, rather than the focal point of the narrative. Many organizations are tempted to overload their content with numbers. But this adds little value to the story if the author can’t explain what the numbers mean.
For instance, the statement, “553,742 people in the United States are homeless” on its own is data. It is not a story. What is the significance of this number? How does it affect communities and their constituents? And what is your organization doing to reduce the rate of homelessness in the country?
Answering these questions adds depth and credibility and creates a more compelling story that will resonate with your target audience. Effective data-driven storytelling for nonprofits strikes a delicate balance between statistics, human emotion, and visual components.
3. INCORPORATE VISUAL ELEMENTS
Whether it’s a video snippet, infographic, or photo, bring at least one visual element to your story. This adds a layer of authenticity to your narrative while also allowing your audience to get a sensory experience. If your story is about raising money for a new facility for your local Boys & Girls Club, include a picture of the new building! If it’s about how your organization lowered the recidivism rate of prison inmates across the state, add a chart or an infographic to highlight specific data points. You may be telling a data-driven story, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show it, too.
Visual elements not only make a data-driven story more engaging for a nonprofit’s audience, they also make it real. The audience gets to read and see the journey. Telling a visual story catches the attention of everyone including media, members of the community, and of course, prospective donors.
4. REMEMBER: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION
Telling a data-driven story as a nonprofit should center on the people, community, or places your organization has helped. These stories shine a light on your constituents, while proving your nonprofit’s ability to deliver on its mission. It’s important for the story to promote the outcome, but to do so without being self-serving to your organization.
Ultimately, a data-driven story should also be human- and impact-driven. For example, is there enough context and depth to your subject? Will someone who reads it feel empowered, inspired, or motivated by the impact your nonprofit made?
Rather than getting bogged down in the many challenges nonprofits face in serving their constituents, create a story that focuses on the human lives you’ve touched. Doing so will organically and genuinely enhance and expand your organization’s mission and breadth of services.
5. KEEP THE MOMENTUM GOING
Sharing and listening to stories is part of our fabric as humans. It’s how we communicate, share knowledge and experience, and strengthen relationships. For nonprofits, sharing a data-driven story also improves their chances of receiving community support. The key to bolstering interest and funding is to keep the momentum going.
Telling data-driven stories consistently over time, shows the incremental but significant changes, impacts, and outcomes your organization has had on its constituents and community at large.
If you want even more in-depth tips and best practices about data-driven storytelling for nonprofits, check out the free Combining Stories and Data to Better Prove Your Impact eBook!