publication date: Aug 22, 2011
author/source: Sumac Research
A picture, we say, is worth a thousand words. If that's
true, than an infographic is worth a billion! An infographic is a graphic
visual representation of information and data that allows for quick, effective
Why is this important for nonprofits? Infographics make it
possible to tell a story in one picture - about a need, how funds are used, the
impact your organization is having, or all three - helping you sell your cause.
This article is intended to get you thinking about your
numbers, what they say and how you might display them visually. It includes
some background information as well as some modern day examples of infographics
that we hope will inspire you!
How graphics reveal
The authority on the visual display of information is
unquestionably Edward R. Tufte
his acclaimed 1983 book: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information,
Tufte teaches the fundamentals of using graphics to display information. Don't
be fooled by the eclectic title - the book is loaded with fascinating, useful
information, organized and presented with care.
He starts with a simple example (Anscombe's
Quartet) to show how graphics reveal data - how hidden trends, patterns and
anomalies become "vividly clear" [p.14] when displayed visually.
As you can see, each of these
four sets of numbers has a very different story to tell. That story, which was
hidden in table form, comes alive when displayed visually.
But we can do more than plot numbers to make a
story come alive. According to Tufte: "Often the most effective way to
describe, explore, and summarize a set of numbers . . . is to look at pictures
of those numbers." [p.9] His book is
filled with examples that do just that. In
fact, it is a showcase of some of the best
infographics seen over the centuries. Here are a couple of them:
Napoleon's march to Moscow, according to Tufte,
"may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn." [p.40] The map by
Charles Minard shows Napoleon's march to Moscow and the number of men lost
along the way (represented by the thickness of the line). It captures complex
information - numbers, dates, places - in one picture, enabling us to
understand the whole story at a glance.
telling your nonprofit's story
Think about your numbers. What story do they tell? How
can you use graphics to help someone else understand that story quickly and
easily? Here are links to a couple of great infographics from Column Five for GOOD
that will help inspire you.
tells the story of a need. It shows the lack of clean
drinking water in particular areas of the world, how it becomes contaminated,
and the devastating effects all in one cleverly constructed infographic. Living
tells the story of world poverty. In a very small space, it
successfully conveys an enormous amount of data that is easy to absorb.
Looking for more examples? Check out these 50
compiled by blogger Francesco Mugnai or the infographics pool
In the end, an infographic is a powerful tool. It helps you
tell a story in a memorable way that supporters can understand quickly and
easily. So, if your numbers speak volumes for your organization, find a way to
display them visually and help others get it too!
Sumac is a complete, integrated software solution for
nonprofits that tracks lapsed donors and distributes personalized electronic
and paper communication easily and cost-effectively. For more information