Top Ten Chart Secrets from A Nonprofit Data Nerd | Beth's Blog

Top Ten Chart Secrets from A Nonprofit Data Nerd




Note from Beth: A few months ago,  Ann Emery wrote a guest post about her Top 10 Spreadsheet Secrets which was an amazingly practical and popular post.    Ann inspired me to set up a tumblr blog called “Now That’s A Spreadsheet” showcasing examples from nonprofits.    But being a nonprofit data is not just about being an Excel ninja, it is also about visualizing data and being a chart master.     When Ann told me she has lots of secrets and time saving tips for charts and offered to write this guest post, I was thrilled.

Enjoy this post from my of many favorite nonprofit data nerds ….

Top Ten Chart Secrets from A Nonprofit Data Nerd

Secret #10. Charts can be one of your strongest communication tools. Better charts = better communication = better understanding = better decision making. Whether you’re engaging new supporters, updating your Board, or reporting to your funders, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Secret #9. There are infinite types of charts, but you don’t have to master them all. Line charts and histograms and scatter plots, oh my! If you’re new to charts, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the options. The good news: You only need a handful of go-to charts. Start with the bar chart family, which includes the classics (like horizontal bars and vertical columns) and the cousins (like floating bar charts and small multiples bar charts). Check them out!

Secret #8. Once youíve mastered the essentials, spread your wings with new-ish chart types. Social network maps, tree maps, and dot plots are some of the newest charts to enter the nonprofit field.†Social network maps are for visualizing relationships between people or organizations, like your nonprofit’s role in a nationwide advocacy campaign or your professional network as Andy Carvin did below.  Tree maps are for hierarchical or nested data, and they’re great for showing several part-to-whole patterns at once. Dot plots are like bar charts eyes are drawn to the circles at the end of the bars.

Secret #7. Colors can make or break a chart. Colors direct our eye movements, and therefore our brains and attention. Itís up to you: will you help or hinder your audienceís understanding? Improve any chart by matching your color scheme to your nonprofitís logo (rather than the software programís default color scheme). Next, figure out whether your categories are nominal, sequential, or diverging and adjust colors accordingly. Finally, de-clutter by deleting the border, grid lines, and tick marks.

Secret #6. Blogs necessarily books are your best bet for learning about dataviz. The data visualization field is expanding at an explosive pace! Nonprofit data nerds need up-to-the-minute information about the latest tips, tricks, and tools. Here’s my Twitter list of dataviz enthusiasts worth following. I’ve adapted secrets from these dataviz rock stars to my own nonprofit charts. Know another dataviz role model? Share your favorites in the comments below!

Secret #5. Don’t be afraid to doodle!†Grab a notepad, some colored markers, and simply start sketching a few charts. Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm; share your sketches with a colleague; repeat. The best part: itís okay if your drafts are hideous! The goal is to stretch your imagination and do some critical thinking with your teammates. Here are some of my recent dataviz doodles:

Secret #4. A little Excel elbow grease goes a looooong way. Once youíre finished doodling, transform your sketches into polished masterpieces. With a few clicks, most of your nonprofit’s charts are do-able in Excel. Get inspiration from dataviz challenges and this gallery of charts made with some Excel elbow grease. New to Excel? Check out these Excel tutorials and spreadsheet secrets.

Secret #3. When sharing your charts, think outside of the 8.5 x 11 inch box. Sure, you can paste charts alongside the text in your existing reports. You can also grab attention with dataviz-dense reports, data placemats, infographics, interactive dashboards, or scratch-off graphs. Creating a slideshow for your Board? Try the layering technique or the slow reveal.

Secret #2. Surround yourself with Hall of Fame-worthy charts. Data nerds are constantly hunting for the best and brightest charts. I tag my favorites as the Dataviz Hall of Fame on Tumblr. I also print my favorite charts and keep them next to my desk for inspiration. Know another Hall of Fame-worthy chart about nonprofit data? Share a link below!

Jeffrey Blandt is a Data Scientist for DoSomething.Org. Beth took this photo of the wall above his desk last Oct.

Secret #1. And the final secret… is up to you! What are your chart secrets? Please share your tips with the #npdata community in the comments below!

Ann Emery is an evaluator at Innovation Network in Washington, DC. She blogs at and tweets from @annkemery.

10 Responses

  1. […] Top Ten Chart Secrets from a Nonprofit Data Nerd [Beth’s Blog] 0 Comments […]

  2. […] Note from Beth: A few months ago, Ann Emery wrote a guest post about her Top 10 Spreadsheet Secrets which was an amazingly practical and popular post.  […]

  3. […] Beth’s blog shares Ann Emry’s tips for creating charts with your nonprofit’s data. […]

  4. […] Love charts? So does Beth Kanter, and she has some great advice for making yours rock. […]

  5. DonorPath loves charts, too — and we not only create them from a spreadsheet, but directly from your fundraising software, too.

  6. […] Now that you know what not to do, Beth Kanter has Top Ten Chart Secrets from A Nonprofit Data Nerd. […]

  7. Steve says:

    I especially like #10. I truly believe that charts are a powerful representation of data that can make a strong impression on individuals if done right.

  8. Bernardo says:

    Hello, I enjky reading thrlugh your article post. I wanted to write a littloe comment to support you.

  9. […] Top Ten Chart Secrets from A Nonprofit Data Nerd – Being a nonprofit data is not just about being an Excel ninja, it is also about visualizing data and being a chart master. Read now >> […]