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Dataviz for Philanthropists: How to Communicate Better with Charts


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Handout from a presentation for the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy
by Ann K. Emery
January 30, 2014
Washington, DC

Memos and metrics, emails and texts, newsletters and reports: Is your organization suffering from information overload? We consume 34 gigabytes, or 100,500 words, of information every day. Our brains are overwhelmed and struggling to keep up.

Data visualization–or dataviz–is one of the strongest weapons against information overload. Colorful diagrams, well-designed charts, and engaging infographics are easy to digest and fun to share. Dataviz can get your colleagues to pay attention to your organization’s most important data. Dataviz can captivate and catalyze your supporters. And dataviz can improve your communication power with pretty much every audience you’re hoping to inform or sway. So get started!

On January 30, 2014, Innovation Network’s Ann Emery led a presentation for the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy titled “Dataviz for Philanthropists: How to Communicate Better with Charts.” She started by setting the stage: What is dataviz? Why do our brains crave images over text? We also discussed how you can use charts to communicate information better during your Board meetings; in your annual reports, newsletters, and mailings; and through your group’s social media channels. Next, Ann shared simple strategies for improving any chart–like reducing clutter, adding a Twitter-like headline, and using colors to emphasize your most important points.

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Dataviz for Philanthropists: How to Communicate Better with Charts

  1. 1. Dataviz for Philanthropists How to Communicate Better with Charts Presentation for the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy | January 2014 Ann K. Emery | Innovation Network @annkemery | The Chart Checklist: 5 Steps to Improve Any Chart 1 2 3 4 5 Select your story. Choose 1 finding (of many possible options) to highlight. Reduce the clutter. Remove or reduce the border, grid lines, & tick marks. Directly label. Lose the legend—place details right next to the data. Emphasize key findings with color. Guide the reader’s eye with your action color. Summarize your story in the headline. Add a caption when more details are needed. Before After
  2. 2. Am I Doing It Right? Two Tests  The Squint Test: Squint your eyes so that you’re peering at the chart through your eyelashes and everything seems a little blurry. Can you see the shape or pattern of the data? If not, revisit Step 1 (remove clutter by removing or lightening the border and grid lines).  The Significant Other Test: Give a draft of your chart to a significant other or coworker. Ask, “tell me what you’ve learned from this chart.” If they hesitate more than 5 seconds, or their story doesn’t align with your intended story, revisit Steps 2-4. For example, you may need to work on your headline and annotations. Resources Excellent multi-purpose dataviz tools  Excel: Nearly all of the graphics from this presentation were made in Excel. Free tutorials at  Tableau Public: Careful—your datasets become publicly available when uploaded.  R: Prior programming experience needed. Making specific chart types  Social network maps with nodeXL: 4-step tutorial at  US and state maps:  Color advice for maps:  Bar charts:  Side-by-side bar charts:  Diverging stacked bar charts:  Small multiples:  Dot plots:  Circle charts: Books  The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte  Designing with the Mind in Mind by Jeff Johnson Blogs     by Cole Nussbaumer by Stephanie Evergreen by Jon Schwabish (look for the dataviz challenges) Twitter (#dataviz)  @PostGraphics  @NYTgraphics  @WSJgraphics  … and many more: Inspiration and examples  or @thumbsupviz