The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

Data's role in your nonprofit storytelling strategy


In both its volume and accessibility, big data has had all kinds of implications for the way nonprofits operate—from internal processes to volunteer recruitment to fundraising. But what I find most interesting (maybe unsurprisingly, considering my title) about data's integration into the nonprofit world is the way it can be used to augment that most powerful of marketing tools—the story.

Big data's value to your marketing strategy is its ability to quickly present your readers with a macro view: of the problem you're addressing, of the people you serve and their community and of the impact your nonprofit is making. The narrative into which you integrate the data may focus on one individual or small group, but the data itself is critical to demonstrating the big picture. As Jinna Halperin put it for Nonprofit Quarterly:

"By offering supporting data, organizations demonstrate their capacity to replicate an individual story on a broader level with others in their target audience, whatever it may be."

That being said, while data can help establish credibility and trust between your org and your donors, it will never replace our need to put faces to causes. Or, more simply:

"Data is just a way of talking about what actions one complete, vibrant human has taken in relation to your project."

So, how do nonprofits begin the task of uniting left- and right-brain sensibilities in their marketing communications? There are a number of different tacks, but the guiding principle must be the use of data to enhance the human story, and not the other way around. Here's a sample process outline:

1.Find your thesis. What's the message you want to convey? What action do you want your audience to take upon reading your story?

2.Mine your data. Focus on information that ties to your thesis. There's no need to throw every statistic you have into the story; you're readers will check out. This will also help you minimize the cost—in time and human resources—associated with analysis.

3.Put a face on it. Find one or two human stories that illustrate what your numbers show, and lead your copy with at least one of them. This will (a) draw your readers in in the first place and (b) act as a device to help them remember all that data.

Narrative and data are never as strong apart as they are together. As long as you keep the human element front and center, and the data in a supporting role, there's no reason you can't leverage both to your organization's advantage.


Josh Mait

The preceding is a guest post by Josh Mait, Chief Marketing Officer at Relationship Science LLC (RelSci), the leading relationship mapping company. His passion is building creatively-inspired, strategically-driven, successful organizations. Sign up for their weekly nonprofit newsletter, the RelSci 5.

Topics: Big Data