How to sell your cause with infographics

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 analysis.

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 data

The authority on the visual display of information is unquestionably Edward R. Tufte. In 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.Table


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 Shrinking family doctorfilled 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 March

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.

Infographics today: 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.

Water Down 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 on Less 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 great designs compiled by blogger Francesco Mugnai or the infographics pool on Flickr.

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 visit

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