Person using data storytelling to present their findings.

5 Noteworthy Benefits of Effective Data Storytelling

According to Steve Jobs, “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values & agenda of an entire generation that is to come.”

Good stories are backed by hard data. Translating collected data or evidence into a compelling and insightful narrative is known as data storytelling. The skill combines visualization, contextualization, and narrative techniques to engage, inform, or inspire a predefined audience. 

In this guide, we’ll explore some noteworthy advantages of effective data storytelling and provide strategies for how your team can start implementing it. Let’s dive in!

Builds trust

Data storytelling weaves your organization’s insights into a credible, comprehensible narrative that can increase trust among your team members, external partners, and the population you serve. Over time, this confidence can empower your organization to accomplish the following objectives:

  • Pivot internal strategies. When making changes to your internal organization’s structure or objectives, it’s essential to present the data that backs up each of these decisions. For instance, a nonprofit may use insights from its donor database to indicate a need for an improved donor retention strategy that addresses high rates of donor churn.
  • Recruit and retain talent. Effective data storytelling enables organizations to highlight their achievements to attract more top talent. By continuing to value data-driven decision-making, you can then set the tone for new team members to adopt the same evidence-backed processes in their work.
  • Maintain credibility. From the external stakeholder perspective, data-driven narratives indicate that your organization is trustworthy. For this reason, nonprofits use an annual report to break down their operations’ success and tangible outcomes.
  • Gather support. Data-driven proposals are often the foundation that investor relations and fundraising requests stand on. For instance, a nonprofit aiding in disaster relief could indicate that a donation of $50 could allow them to provide 10 emergency blankets, 12 hygiene kits, and seven disaster clean-up kits.

A culture of data storytelling opens the door to increased trust across several fronts while ensuring your team remains transparent and accountable. For nonprofits especially, using data storytelling to display your funds indicates professionalism and credibility. In turn, this can result in more matched donations, volunteer support, and a greater missional impact overall.

Data Storytelling Contextualizes Experiences

Data storytelling takes the audience beyond raw statistics to understand how an organization’s operational changes produce tangible, positive outcomes. These anecdotes, backed by your findings, can come in different shapes and sizes. Here are a few variations to consider across separate industries:

  • Customer profiles. Data narratives help organizations better understand the people they serve. For instance, healthcare organizations can use data narratives from a robust analytics platform to compare their patient’s health to the overall population. This way, they can access additional context related to their patient needs.
  • Before and after stories. Comparing data before and after a major project or transition can help accurately frame progress, recenter strategies, and celebrate successes. For example, a healthcare organization may compare its patient care quality before and after implementing a new electronic health record (EHR) workflow.
  • Stories from the field. Frontline perspectives provide context to abstract data points and can emphasize their findings. These “boots on the ground” stories help organizations zoom in on their data to measure intangible impact. That’s why considering your team’s experiences alongside your collected data can add new insights into your organization’s challenges or needs.
  • Testimonials. These stories have incredible utility to expand your organization’s impact. A personal story can help you connect with your donors, customers, or patients in a way that resonates and brings in more support.

Data storytelling adds color to your organization’s raw findings to emphasize your impact. As a result, the contextualized data can evoke empathy and inspire necessary action.

Creates meaning

Organizations prioritizing corporate citizenship measure their success with return on investment (ROI) and their social impact. Data storytelling helps audience members understand the significance of an organization’s initiatives. Let’s look at a couple of examples from different perspectives:

  • Stakeholders. If your organization relies on the support of corporate sponsors, data narratives can help ground your performance and persuade stakeholders to invest. For example, a well-designed infographic explaining your organization’s impact may convince nonprofit donors may increase their donation amounts.
  • Customers. Measured data points point out the tangible differences an organization’s efforts have made in a customer’s journey. For instance, a company may promote its client satisfaction scores to strengthen its existing customer relationships and appeal to new customers.
  • Administrators and staff. Sharing data-backed stories that illustrate the positive outcomes resulting from administrative expertise and responsibility can motivate team members to celebrate their progress and continue working toward their organizational goals.

When used with the right audience in mind, data storytelling translates collected data into understandable impact that can inspire motivation and gratitude.

Visualizes outcomes

Data storytelling can illustrate trends, progress, and outcomes clearly and compellingly. Visual representations of data make complex information more digestible and memorable, allowing stakeholders to grasp the impact of an organization’s work quickly.

You can use a wide variety of visualization tools such as charts, infographics, flowcharts, or even interactive solutions to frame your data. As an example, Arcadia uses dashboards to visualize healthcare outcomes and opportunities. When similar tools are used effectively, they can help organizations of all kinds by:

  • Monitoring operational performance. Real-time dashboards keep up with current trends and help monitor internal performance fluctuation so that leadership can get a better understanding of areas of improvement.
  • Keeping tabs on costs and resources. A cost-tracking dashboard measures expenses over time, compares your budget to economic trends, and provides cost-allocation insights. Typically these dashboards are housed within an accounting software or expense management system or within a CRM.
  • Graphing larger trends. Tools like Tableau or Google Looker Studio can assist with trend graphing to place internal initiatives in context. For instance, many organizations rely on predictive analytics to forecast future trends based on historical data.

The right tools can help you keep track of your resources so that you never skip a beat. This applies in the nonprofit sector as well. For example, a matching gift software vendor can visualize your matching gift goals and track your fundraising efforts in real time. As a result, nonprofits can clearly predict their matching gift revenue over time.

Unifies collaborators

Data storytelling fosters a sense of shared mission and purpose that can get team members on the same page. Leverage dedicated employee engagement tools to gather more data that unifies your team, including:

  • Recognition platforms. Motivate your team members with meaningful recognition from managers and peers. With these platforms, you can turn a staff member’s successful KPIs into positive kudos.
  • Feedback-based platforms. Providing consistent and measured feedback can turn an employee’s core metrics into productive conversations that keep all parties informed and aligned on expectations and next steps.
  • Internal communication and project management platforms. These solutions help your team set achievable growth goals and contextualize progress. This way, with every new touchpoint, you’ll be able to see the full story of your team’s improvement.

Contextualizing your internal metrics can lead to increased engagement and team member satisfaction. Over time, this evidence-backed conversation helps provide a common language and understanding of the team’s goals and achievements.

The value of data storytelling can be measured throughout several different industries—nonprofit, business, healthcare, education, and more. As you learn to weave your raw data into inspiring narratives, you can not only unlock the potential for informed decision-making but also create a bridge between complex data and organizational impact.