Storytelling: Turning Data Into Effective Stories

For years nonprofits have used storytelling as a way to share the impact of their work with donors and the community.  Typically these stories illustrate a specific case of how individuals and communities have been transformed through these charitable projects.  These stories often provide the reader with an emotional connection to the non-profit and can serve as powerful examples of how an organization is truly working to make a difference.

Many people might consider data to be something of a boring topic that is unlikely to inspire potential supporters and that is of limited use to non-profits seeking those developing rich content, but data can be used to share stories that gives organizations the power to both better understand the impact they’re making and share it effectively with others.

Show the problem

One of the things data can do is help tell the story of how you plan to make a difference in your community. Many of the stories we want potential supporters to understand are centred on revealing the truth behind a situation. The truth can become obvious when you reveal the problem through statistics.

These statistics can be a powerful way to communicate the scope of the problem you’re addressing and the impact you and your donors are able to have in the community.



Show your impact

The data you are collecting to measure progress towards a particular goal also provides a way for potential and existing supporters to understand the impact you are having and what we are able to achieve with their support.

Water for People, a charity that focuses on long-lasting, safe drinking water resources and improved sanitation, developed a program called FLOW to monitor and evaluate the progress of their work and share this information with supporters.

The system was designed to provide accountability and transparency to donors and the public through fast data collection, survey flexibility, analytical tools for data-driven decision making, and map-based reporting of results.


Acumen Fund used data to create a graphic timeline going straight down their main page that showed people in a fun and interesting way what they had been able toachieve so far..



Make your data beautiful

Your organization puts out an annual report each year, but how many of your constituents actually read it? I would guess not that many. But the content in that report is relevant to your audience and is rich with social proof and data on the impact of your mission

Do not assume that if a potential donor or volunteer wants to learn about your work, impact, and financial situation that they will download a massive annual report and read it in their free time.

If you want to share what you do with your supporters you should present it in a way that is easy to find and understand on your website. Make it beautiful, shareable, and accessible to your audience and share stories that demonstrate what you have achieved. That’s what charity: water does for every annual report.


Return to the story

While data is a powerful communications tool, they can lack the vibrancy of the real-life situations they describe. As data can be very process-driven, reliance on data to the detriment of the stories they represent can leave communications, uninspiring and ineffective.

It is possible to share data in a way that is compelling, but they must be based on the story, grounding it in those real cases that show the outcomes of your work.

Nothing sticks to memories or is as affecting as a well told story, and the best kind of story is one about an individual we can relate to. A well-told story of one individual is a powerful entry-point to sharing broader, more abstract data and concepts.

Inside the data there are stories about the work being done and the changes brought in the lives of the individual, their family, their community. These hidden stories are the reason for the work you do.