Nonprofits and Foundations: Don’t Forget the Infographics

flickr/*raj*I’ve read many articles and posts over the past few years about the nonprofit sector’s inability to manage and share information effectively. (Gee, I’ve even written a couple.) Most of these articles suggest how nonprofits can share information more meaningfully than through reports, and how they can tell stories that convey information in a more powerful, memorable way.

Let me add another important tool to this remedial mix—infographics.

Wikipedia defines them as visual devices intended to communicate complex information quickly and clearly. We’ve all seen examples of them—subway maps, traffic signs, scientific diagrams, and even children’s books. Here’s a good blog post introduction to infographics from InstantShift.

I’ve been intrigued with this field of expertise for a couple of decades, but the sheer volume of information out there now and the leaps made in communications technology have forced an enviable bloom in the field over the past couple of years. (Look at all the examples that pop up when you search in Google images or the flickr infographics pool!)

Right now, infographics are being used most effectively by newspapers and magazines interested in easy-to-understand explanations of complex concepts and relationships. But, some foundations and nonprofits have started to understand the value of this tool to visually simplify information that’s difficult to convey in text. Check out the infographics page on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation site.

Foundations especially have struggled for years to find ways of making their knowledge bases more accessible and understandable…and actionable! Infographics—because they are so quickly understood—can really help build momentum for action.

Let’s look at a few examples of good infographics, so you get the drift. Here are 50 excellent designs compiled by blogger Francesco Mugnai. Check out his other inspirational infographics lists under “related posts” on his blog. Note the flexibility of this medium, able to capture information as disparate as what’s inside Bob Dylan’s brain to the population demographics of the US or global giving patterns for the Haiti disaster (shown on  Information is Beautiful).

In addition to what’s linked above, other online resources offer stunning examples and regular commentary about infographics to spur your imagination.





My advice? The next time you encounter difficulty explaining information to your key audiences—don’t forget the beauty of infographics.

CC photo credit: *raj*


Free tool of the week: Fun, informative, powerful Google maps

midCaptureWe’ve all heard a lot about the capabilities of Google Maps, but that may not translate into our regular use of this great tool. I fell into that category myself before I sat down for a half-hour and just played. I decided to create a map of  East Lake Street in Minneapolis, which has benefited from recent community development projects. View the map at Midtown Renaissance: East Lake Street Comes Alive in a larger format.

To save time, I limited myself to five projects—but I could have gone on to produce a denser, more layered story of community development in this area.

Once you get on the larger map, click on:

  • the red line (Lake Street) to see a linked PDF
  • the green line (a bike path) to see an embedded youtube video
  • the yellow rectangle to see embedded photos and text, and
  • the blue square to see embedded photos, text, hyperlinks, and video.

The orange rectangle is another CDC project, where I wanted to show you that you can put a small photo directly on the map. Note also the P parking graphic; there are lots of these little graphics, like the biker on the green line, to choose from.

In short, all you have to do to create a map is go to Google Maps, quickly create an account profile, click on My Maps, and then Create New Map. Add a map title and description. You can choose the simpler street view format or the 3-D satellite view (in above photo) format to work in from the icons in the upper right hand corner. Zone in on the area you’re interested in and start using the placemarker and draw shapes tools in the upper left hand corner.

Using the placemarker tool, you can either choose one of Google’s icons or insert a url to create your own (that’s how I got the photo directly onto the map). If you use one of google’s placemarker icons, that creates a little popup window where you can title the place, add text, photos, and even embed videos. To embed photos in the popup window, click the little colored photo icon on the menu at the top of the window. To embed a video, click on “edit html” in the popup window and place the embed code from your video in the text box. Then click OK and Done (in the left hand column). That takes you out of the edit mode, so you can view your work like someone else will view it. If you’d rather learn this all from a video, here’s a good one.

You can also use the draw shapes tool (looks like a zigzag line) to create colored shapes and lines that overlay your map. I did this for the green bike route, the red street, the orange development area, and the yellow and blue buildings. A popup window automatically is created for these shapes, so you don’t have to use a placemarker.

There are a ton of uses for these maps in the nonprofit world—not just to locate your building for visitors. Think about creating neighborhood histories, identifying where specific resources or programs are located, tracking project progress on the ground, developing neighborhood asset maps, conveying complex demographic and community information, etc. (Environmental groups and others may want to also explore Google Earth Outreach for nonprofits. Here are some case studies for that tool.)

You can share these maps through emails, hyperlinks, and embedding. If you have any remaining doubts about the power of these free tools or need further inspiration, look at the Crisis in Darfur maps created by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

How has your nonprofit used Google maps creatively? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Please do!