Telling Stories with Data

3 min readApr 19, 2018


By Sarah Newhall of Anne Lewis Strategies

Today it feels like data is everywhere. Not only is it omnipresent, but it seems like the focus on data and the recommendations for how to use it shift daily. Is it big data or smart data? Fast data or slow data? Useful or superfluous?

It’s no wonder that organizations are overwhelmed by this talk about data and the ready access to millions of data points via CRMs, Analytics, and social media. Luckily, data doesn’t have to be a scary proposition, and its use can have immediate benefit to your audience and your program.

An example of user-generated content data

One of the most exciting uses of data for a nonprofit is to bolster its digital storytelling. Every nonprofit has stories to tell, of both successes and needs. We know supporters are likely to respond to these stories and, as communications specialists, we spend hours cultivating the right turns of phrase and testing into the stories that are most likely to resonate with audiences. Over time we have found that data can be just as compelling as individual stories when it comes to getting a supporter to act. Those data points can be particularly crucial at key moments, such as around a fundraising goal and deadline like year end.

The good news for most organizations is that they already have interesting pieces of data at their fingertips. Thinking through what constitutes impactful data doesn’t have to be a behemoth exercise that requires significant internal and external resources. Most of our clients’ supporters appreciate emails that highlight the impact that their support has, meaning that impact reports (and emails) that emphasize an organization’s accomplishments can be educational and help build a connection to supporters.

An example of a Gap to Goal email

Supporters also like to have goals and know what they’re working towards. We find that setting goals to help a donor understand what his or her gift is going to help accomplish can be a small, yet useful, data point. In fact, time and time again we have seen that a goal shortfall email that speaks about what an organization won’t be able to do without the audience’s support will consistently outraise individual impact stories by two, three, or even thirty-fold.

We advise tapping into data points that can be repurposed and distributed across channels. While using the same data point a few times may feel repetitive to you, most of your supporters don’t see every piece of content you put out. This means that they’re unlikely to see the repetition that we as content creators may feel. Similarly, most supporters need to see a piece of information multiple times before it sticks. In this case, telling your story consistently and succinctly can redound to your benefit!

If you don’t feel that your organization has a wealth of data points to use or that you’re comfortable using, you can of course seek out publicly available information. Most organizations aren’t an island: they are part of a larger conversation and public awareness, meaning that there are often facts and pieces of information for organizations to pull from as needed.

The bottom line is that data is any nonprofit’s friend. If you weave it into your program, you’re likely to see benefits to your program’s success, and to the relationship that your supporters feel they have with your organization.

Have questions? Email Anne Lewis Strategies (




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