Oct 23 2018

For Nonprofits, Technology Can Tell a Powerful Story

Data visualizations and virtual reality are compelling ways to attract and enlist allies.

Storytelling powered by technology has become one of the most powerful tools in the modern journalist’s toolkit, and that’s potentially the case for nonprofits as well. Organizations that use new and creative ways to convey their needs and their success stories may find that a single, compelling story can be as effective as multiple outreaches through traditional channels. 

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Turn Raw Numbers into a Nonprofit Narrative

Data visualization can serve a variety of purposes inside an organization, particularly helping to inform and refine donor outreach. But it’s also an effective way to create compelling, outward-facing communications. As every photographer knows, images can quickly and meaningfully convey a story in a way that words often cannot. 

At the Nonprofit Technology Network’s annual conference this year, Robert Weller, a data solutions specialist with Save the Bay, and Tracy Warfield of Data Geeks Lab gave a presentation on using data analytics to help drive storytelling. They noted that tools such as Tableau, Microsoft Power BI and Google Data Studio can help nonprofits transform raw data into meaningful insights. Often, organizations use these analyses to improve their decision-making, but they are equally valuable as inputs for creative storytelling.

As an example, Weller and Warfield presented a map showing the reduction in trash for various cities along the San Francisco Bay, a key measure of impact directly related to Save the Bay’s mission. They also shared an infographic that visually explains the impact of a 50,000-megawatt reduction in dirty coal. Both concepts could be explained in text instead, but showing them graphically helps stakeholders grasp their import quickly and easily. As an added benefit, visualizations are attention-grabbing and easily shareable on social media, which extends their reach.

Most nonprofits already capture data on their advocacy issues, so they could be sitting on a gold mine of potentially valuable stories. Figuring out the best way to unearth those stories and use them to develop a compelling story involves three parts, according to data expert Brent Dykes: data, visuals and narrative. Combining them effectively, he says, can help to achieve some of the most important goals organizations have for their messaging — to explain, enlighten and engage.

Virtual Reality Helps Nonprofits Bring Storytelling to Life

Many nonprofits serve individuals and communities that are a long way away — either physically or figuratively — from donors and supporters. But what if those advocates could travel to these beneficiaries virtually, gaining an immersive look at their experiences

That was the strategy Amnesty International took when it sought to convey the dangers and difficulties of civilian life in Aleppo, Syria, for its Fear of the Sky VR experience. Viewable on a desktop, VR-compatible browser or mobile phone, it puts users on bombed-out Syrian streets, with the ability to navigate through a 360-degree view — an experience far more visceral than reading a description of the same images. A “Take Action” button makes it easy for users to share the experience online or make a monetary contribution

Instead of relying solely on digital channels to disseminate Fear of the Sky, Amnesty International took this VR experience around Britain to share it with members of the public using refurbished smartphones and inexpensive VR headsets. The effort paid off, with the organization reporting a 16 percent increase in direct-debit donations within one week of the fundraising initiative.

Although VR may seem beyond the reach of some organizations, it’s quickly becoming an affordable and manageable ambition even for relative novices, and plenty of online resources can walk nonprofit staff through it. For more support, check out VR for Good, an initiative from Oculus that was created to support and connect VR creators who are working toward social change. The next time your team is brainstorming for creative ways to spread your message, consider grabbing a 360-degree camera and a basic headset and starting to experiment

For nonprofits, great storytelling has the potential to engage prospective donors, fellow activists and other allies like no other medium. And the building blocks of those stories don’t necessarily require a significant investment. The most valuable assets for storytelling — the experiences of the people that an organization seeks to help and the information that informs its mission — may already be on hand, just waiting to do their part.


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