Craft Your Story

Like any good story, storytelling with data requires a beginning, middle and end. There may be conflict, change and celebration. Here are some tips to help you tell an effective story:

Storytelling Tips

  • Start with the end: what message do you want your audience to walk away with?
  • Make it personal: how can you connect your audience emotionally?
  • Storyboard: whether it is a short executive summary or a 40-page presentation, storyboarding can be helpful in deciding what to convey and in what order.
  • Make sure to include qualitative data, stories, anecdotes and comments that add color and context to your quantitative data.
  • Find the right balance between visualization and narrative—digital content should be heavier on the visualization, while a formal print evaluation report should be heavier on narrative. You want your visualizations and narrative to support each other without being duplicative.

You have to decide how to best take advantage of your data to tell your story. To do this, think about three things: audience, medium and purpose.

Identify the audience

Deciding what data to present may be different depending on your audience and the specific action (if any) you want them to take as a result of the story you are telling. Your audience could include one or more of the following:

  • Internal staff members
  • Board members
  • Partner organizations
  • Funders
  • Constituents
  • The broader nonprofit sector

Identify the medium

There are many different modes for communicating your data: Internal staff meetings, evaluation reports, board books, op-eds, informal conversations, conference presentations, blog posts and web content. You may choose to share your data using several different methods that fall into the following categories:

  • Digital (web, email)
  • Formal print (evaluation report, conference one-pager, PowerPoint)
  • Informal print (staff meeting, board book)
  • Video

Define the purpose

What is the purpose of telling your story? You may have a different purpose depending on the audience and the medium.

There are generally two major purposes for conveying information:

  • Informational: Conveying “nice to know” information
  • Decisional: Conveying information that contributes to a specific decision or action

Depending on your purpose, you may want to highlight different aspects of your data.

Decisional graphics are only effective in helping you make better choices when they contain both information and an actionable recommendation based on that information.