Maybe you want to bring awareness to your nonprofit’s mission, or maybe you want to share your organization’s success with the world.
You could write a lengthy, detailed newsletter to your donors, but you’re worried that going over all the critical data points might lose your reader in the weeds. If you want to grab someone’s attention and convey important info about your organization in a short period of time, make an infographic!
Infographics have been used for 200 years to communicate complex messages and data in an accessible and engaging manner. But with the rise of the internet and social media, they’ve exploded into popularity. Infographics are liked and shared three times more than all other kinds of content, and sites that use infographics have their traffic grow around 12 percent more than sites that don’t.
A crisp, exciting infographic may be the best way to cut through the fog of social media, reach donors, and spread your message. We have prepared a set of actionable steps to get you started creating your own successful infographic, along with stellar examples illustrating the key principles.
What’s the Story?
When you hear the word infographic, you might immediately think of graphs, charts, and big numbers. While it’s true that many infographics are built around presenting data, this is not where you should start.
At its heart, a good infographic tells a story—a story that its audience needs to hear. Ask yourself: what story do you want to tell? It could be a story of a particular program’s success—how the helicopter you raised money to buy has rescued dozens of hikers stuck in the mountains. Or it could be a story of the need for your organization—how thousands of disabled prisoners in your state don’t receive the necessary care and accommodations. Or it could be the story of your organization’s process—how money from donations pays for educational tablets that are then sent to rural areas without schools.
Once you have your story, consider these questions: What is your audience? What do they need to know? Why should they care? What’s the best way to reach them?
For an example, take a look at this infographic by the World Wildlife Fund.
The story is simple: many species of sea turtles are critically endangered due to climate change, habitat loss, and fishing—but you can help by being a more mindful consumer. In other words: (1) there’s a problem, (2) this is the cause, (3) you can be part of the solution.
Notice how the infographic represents the three parts of the story. In the first section, we see images of the endangered turtles, which helps create a personal, emotional connection with their plight. In the second, we see a concise set of explanations for why the turtles are endangered, both data and qualitative facts. Finally, after being convinced that this is a serious problem, we’re given three simple ways that we can do something about it. For an audience that cares about the environment and biodiversity, this is a simple and effective message.
Gather Good Data
Like we said earlier, not every infographic needs to use hard data and graphs. But if your story uses numbers, good data visualization will be a key asset.
The best source of data is probably your own organization. Collect statistics on things like the scope of the problem you’re tackling, your project performance indicators, and the money spent on successful projects. You can also conduct surveys using tools like SurveyMonkey and Pollfish.
You don’t want to disseminate information, so always double-check that the data you’re using is accurate, and that the source you got it from is reliable and unbiased. Also, make sure the statistics are up-to-date. There’s no point in using cancer or homelessness rates from the 1980s, unless you’re trying to show how they have changed over time due to your organization’s work.
Check out the kinds of data used by Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign about the importance of breakfast.
We get impactful but easy-to-digest stats on the benefits of school breakfast in the short-term and the long-term, along with numbers on how few children are able to receive school breakfast. Only seven different statistics are used, but they make a clear case that we need to create greater access to breakfast for schoolchildren who need it.
Choose the Right Format
This goes back to our earlier questions: what does your audience need to know, and what’s the best way to reach them?
Certain kinds of graphics work better for certain purposes. Some of the best infographics are simply beautiful lists, like the WWF’s turtle campaign. If you’re trying to illustrate a process, then a flowchart is an excellent choice.
When it comes to data visualization, you may become overwhelmed with all the different options. But don’t worry—most infographics rely on a few mainstays. Line charts are good for showing change over time, like an increase in grades after the implementation of an after-school study program. Bar graphs, on the other hand, help compare a few different numbers, such as the difference in grades between kids who attend the after-school study program and those who don’t. Pie charts show proportions, like the percentage of students who are able to attend after-school programs and the percentage who are not.
There are many others: data maps, box plots, bullet charts, stacked bar graphs, word clouds, timelines, radial trees, and scatter plots, to name a few. The art of data visualization is very cool and impressive, but remember that the end goal is to tell a story the best way you can. Play around with different statistics you have and figure out which ones work best for you. The best graphs tell an unequivocal story within the first seconds of looking at them.
When the religious charity Compassion wanted to share the results of an independent study that displayed its tremendous success, they simplified its findings into this infographic:
Notice the use of bar graphs to show the proportion of children enrolled in sponsorships, of people studied by the researchers, and of the responses shared by children in the programs.
We really liked the creative use of bar graphs to compare the results of children enrolled and not enrolled in sponsorship programs. Instead of employing dry charts, the designers represented the comparison using relevant images, like stacks of books and graduation hats.
Make It Beautiful
Once you’re done researching and planning, it’s time to put the infographic together. If you have the budget, you may want to employ a graphic designer or a data visualization specialist. However, there is now a huge variety of services available that provide tools and templates for you to do it yourself, like Tableau, Canva, and Snappa.
Regardless of how you do it, there are two basic principles you should remember when you’re working on the infographic. First, keep it simple. Most people will encounter your infographic when scrolling on social media or going through their email. You will have only a second or two to seize their attention, and possibly up to a minute to tell your story. You want to make it as easy as possible for the viewer. That means putting in as little as it takes to convey your message.
One of the best ways to do this is to minimize the amount of reading your audience will do. The images should tell the story as much as possible, and text should be used only when necessary. Make sure there aren’t any words that simply repeat what an image is saying.
But there is an important role for text: the headline. It’s the first thing everyone will see, so shout loud and clear what they’re about to look at.
Limit your color palette, and make sure they mesh well, possibly with your overall branding as well. This will ensure the graphic is striking and easy to understand. Similarly, use at most two different fonts.
Here’s some advice to keep in mind, from Antonine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Avoid clutter. Negative space allows images and words to breathe, and it prevents the reader from getting overwhelmed.
If you find that your graphic is filled to the brim with images and text that are all essential, consider making a series of smaller, simpler graphics, almost like a scrolling slideshow. The Compassion infographic is a good example of how you can move through a series of important data points.
Second, let it flow. Since your infographic is a story, it should move logically from one point to the next, unraveling like a good yarn. If your infographic is long, remember that people will be scrolling down, and so the graphic should flow downward as well. Keeping things relatively aligned will make this easier.
For both images and text, use colors, size, and lines and arrows to direct the flow and intuitively create a hierarchy of information. Setting a main focal point helps with this tool. It should be immediately apparent to the viewer what the most important takeaways are.
For a good example of simplicity and flow, look at this infographic made by Habitat for Humanity to show gratitude for the Carter family’s support and celebrate the successes they have attained together.
It has just about all the key components we’ve talked about: a clear headline, a limited color palette, minimal text, a series of varied and easily-understandable graphs, and a natural flow of facts and ideas. The reader may not remember the exact numbers, but that’s not ultimately the point. What they will keep in their minds are the tremendous achievements of Habitat for Humanity and their support by prominent politicians and celebrities like the Carters.
On social media, infographics are like candy—it’s hard not to read them! But you have to make sure they’re made to be shared, and that they reach the right people.
Generally, the maximum width for an infographic is 735 pixels, and the max length is 5000 pixels. Check to make sure it is readable on a phone, where most people will see it. If it’s too cramped or the text is too small, it may be a good sign that the graphic was too cluttered to begin with.
Before sharing, do a once-over to make sure the visuals in the final product accurately reflect any data you’ve used. Sometimes graphs are accidentally changed without anyone noticing, especially if they’ve passed through multiple hands.
Once it’s ready to see the light of day, post the infographic on your website, social media, and in your newsletter. Make it easily shareable with social media plugins. You might consider sending it to influential accounts related to your mission, so that it reaches a larger audience.
Infographics are a fun, creative way to reach your audience. As we’ve seen, the principles are basic, but the possibilities are endless. For inspiration and tips, check out sites like Information Is Beautiful and Flowing Data. Good luck!