June 21, 2017

Creating Visual Stories for Causes that People Love

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The president of a major philanthropy walked into the meeting room carrying an annual report from an education-focused nonprofit and laid it on the table next to the annual report from his organization. Resting his hand on the nonprofit’s report, he said, “This is one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve seen in a long time.”

Opening it, he revealed a copy-dense report punctuated by photos, charts, infographics, and typography elements that helped him understand the story visually. He noted, “I don’t need to read the full report. The quotes and infographics tell me the entire story.”

2016 Higher Education Compact Spread by Aespire

The president’s comments confirmed what we know and practice: Combining infographics, typography, and smart design with a compelling narrative can turn numbers and research data into a visual story that helps the viewer see with their mind what they feel with their heart.

An infographic is a visual representation of data that aids understanding. It is a way to summarize and simplify complex information, but infographics do not meet the need of every narrative and story. Storytelling becomes more compelling when you combine your inspirational words with infographics, photos, typography, color, and charts with design elements that integrate and create cohesiveness.

Reporting Educational Attainment to the Community

The Higher Education Compact Greater Cleveland report focuses on college readiness, college access, and college persistence.

In this example, infographics, photos, and a brief call out interpret and explain the relevant information in multiple ways for the needs of different readers. Quotes from key stakeholders and leaders are a custom feature of the report, printed in white ink on a vibrant blue paper to reinforce the importance of these highlights in the overall narrative. (Click here to read the full report)

HigherEd Compact Ohio Infographic2016 Higher Education Compact typography detail

Visual Storytelling for Foundations and Grantmakers

Beginning in 2014, American Endowment Foundation (AEF), America’s largest independent provider of donor-advised funds, reviewed the grant distributions made between September 2010 to September 2014, totaling over $228 million in donations.

The top five causes were education, religion, philanthropy, human service and arts/culture.

When the numbers for 2015 were available (along with those of Giving USA), it became a perfect opportunity to create a visual story from the data, the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities classifications, and The Cause Quadrant from Raise Your Voice: A Cause Manifesto.

Cause Quadrant Top Causes Infographic Cause Manifesto Raise Your Voice

If your cause is one of the top five, that’s encouraging news. If you’re one of the other 21 subgroups represented in the complete NTEE list, you’ll have to work a little harder to share your story and build interest for your cause.


 Download this article as a white paper with more examples and resources to help you become a better visual storyteller.


Visual Storytelling for Education

Infographics can help you capture the relevance, value, and uniqueness of your education institution. The most important thing to remember is who the audience is for your intended communications. In this instance, the audience is prospective parents and donors:

ODCS Recruiting Infographic by Aespire

Visual Stories Demonstrate Mission, Scope, and Impact

Even the simplest of infographics can convey powerful truth: Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio wanted to help donors understand that core mission support the central and a part of direct program expenses.

SHFB Core Mission Support Infographic AespireIn a fundraising climate where donors and funders continue to mistakenly believe that their gifts should solely be applied to program expenses, this infographic helps donors understand that growth can only happen when both programs and core mission support grow together.

With a service area covering four counties across Northeast Ohio, numbers, design elements, and a visual representation of the counties which Second Harvest serves also conveys how food is distributed from the food bank to the community through partner charities.

Simple circles quickly communicate to the reader where the food Second Harvest distributes is sourced, and how local, state, and federal funding impacts available resources.

food sourcing in lbs infographic

The Benefits of Being Informational and Inspirational

Why do infographics appeal to us? They are examples of the best aspects of design. In an eye-tracking study, Amy Alberts noted:

“The thing that I think was interesting is that there seems to be—in this research as well as general brain research—certain elements like maps, big numbers, line graphs… are more compelling than others. They draw attention faster than other ones; there’s a hierarchy.” — Amy Alberts

Perhaps a few of your donors enjoy reading the financials, but I’ll bet there are more who would appreciate the data and understand your impact better if you punctuated your narrative by practicing visual storytelling.

Your board may begin to understand the outcomes of your mission if the entire board report is summarized in a dashboard style visual format. It’s more work for you, but more compelling (and shareable) for your ambassadors and advocates.

In your storytelling narrative and the engagement continuum of your communications, visual design is a critical element to inform, inspire, and persuade donors and stakeholders who care about your cause. Stay true to your mission and the value and relevance you’re trying to communicate by making the informational and inspirational elements of design central to your donor communications.


 Download this article as a white paper with more examples and resources to help you become a better visual storyteller.