You’ve read the statistics about the power of visuals (especially infographics). You know visual content is more likely to have an impact, to be shared, and to be remembered. But for you and many nonprofits, creating an infographic can seem like a fantasy when just keeping up with day-to-day demands for written content and photos is a challenge. You can do it. There are five things you need to know to create a fantastic, hard-working infographic for your nonprofit.
What Makes an Infographic Fantastic?
Because one person’s “perfect” may be another’s “eh,” I want to begin by describing the two criteria I consider essential to qualify as a fantastic infographic for any mission-driven organization.
- It advances your mission by working hard – ideally over an extended period of time — to return more than it costs in time and money to produce.
- It is well designed to communicate effectively and reflect well on your organization.
For more on effective infographic design, check out these posts on the design basics and examples from two different issue areas.
The 5 Things You Need to Know
Know Your Objectives
- Why am I creating this piece?
- What do I hope it will accomplish?
Know Your Audience (Really Well)
- Who is my target audience?
- What knowledge level do they have of the subject?
- What’s in it for them? Why do they care?
- What one key message do I want them to take away?
Know Your Potential Channels
How and where can your infographic be used? Different formats and channels reach different audience segments and accomplish different things. If you are investing in creating a durable graphic asset, you want it to be flexible enough to be repurposed for multiple channels.
- What are your audience’s preferred media channels?
- Can the infographic work in each channel, either as a whole, or in part?
- Have you allowed time and budget to reformat the infographic for each channel?
- How will this piece work in tandem with other planned efforts?
Know Your Data (Really Well)
Select the most compelling data to support your key message, remembering less is better than more. A social math or visual analogy can help to explain large numbers or a complex concept. You are likely to use your own original data, but you may also collect third-party data such as government research reports for your sector. If you use third-party data, be sure you properly cite your sources just as you would in any good piece of content.
To keep your infographic uncluttered when you have a ton of different source URLs, include a simple URL at the bottom of your infographic that links to a page on your site listing the individual stats used in your infographic, and their sources.
Know Your Design Options — and Make It Happen
If your infographic is key to supporting a major goal for your organization, you definitely want to hire a professional graphic designer to make it for you. There are literally hundreds of infographics published every single day. And a stunning design can help make yours stand out. However, if you’re on a tight budget I’m going to show you some free tools that you can use to create viral-worthy infographics.
To start to get a good idea of your design options, search a couple of the major infographic directories.
Resources for Design Ideas
Visual.ly is the web’s #1 directory for infographics. And it’s a great place to get a feel for the current infographic landscape.
Just head over to http://visual.ly/ Enter your content type (infographics) or industry (nonprofits/government) in the top toolbar.
Another great resource is Pinterest. While there is no screening for quality on Pinterest, the large number of boards and pins offers a quick snapshot of the good, the bad, and the ugly infographics out there. I suggest starting with this collection of nonprofit annual report infographics:
Free Design Tools
Canva (Free for standard)
Canva is a useful tool for non-designers to create designs, manipulate images, lay text on images, and so forth. There are many free sample infographics templates and images to work with, and if you need more, the per-image charges are inexpensive.
Infogr.am (Free for basic)
If you have little to no design experience, Infogr.am is a great tool. It offers different infographic templates and tools for customizing your infographic. You can use charts, graphs, maps, images, and icons to really spice up your data and make it visually appealing.
A tool similar to Infogr.am, Piktochart makes it easy for you to create and customize infographics within its templates. This tool is meant for users with little design experience who want to create attractive infographics. If you’re going to be using one of these two tools often, try using them in combination with one another. This gives you access to more templates that you can use to vary your content.
Timeline JS (Free)
One type of data visual that I can see many nonprofits using are timelines. Timelines are a great way to display your data by looking at changes or events over time.
Of all the creative marketing strategies that have emerged recently, infographics are among the most useful to nonprofits. Everywhere you look there are examples of data-rich graphics that organizations have created to inspire, educate, and engage their prospective supporters.
Perhaps even more than videos, social media, and many of the hundreds of other marketing innovations of the past few decades, infographics:
- help nonprofits tell their story with data
- help people understand the complex issues that nonprofits are addressing
- encourage donors and participants to share nonprofits’ knowledge
Below are 7 essential tips for success when designing nonprofit infographics.
1. Start with a paragraph.
Creating an infographic is only partly a design task. It’s mostly a storytelling task. The most important part of creating a great infographic is to understand what story you want to tell and the data that support it. Before even talking to a designer, sit down with your data and get to know it. Then, write the story you want your infographic to tell—in one paragraph. Give that to your designer along with the data, images, and any other assets they’ll need to create an amazing infographic for you.
2. Know your purpose.
Is your infographic going to help you explain what you do? Or do you want it to explain the problem and also the solution you propose? There’s no wrong answer, but decide what you want to achieve first, and know that when writing your paragraph.
3. Find good data.
A decade ago, whenever new data was released by a university or think-tank, nonprofits depended on the media to educate the public about it. Now, nonprofits can use the internet and social media to educate their constituencies directly. To take advantage of that tremendous opportunity, you need to actively research new data that relates to your work, which you can use to raise awareness of your issues.
You probably know the universities and other institutions that do the most research in your field. You may have representatives on your board or staff from these institutions—make sure they keep you informed. Subscribe to email lists, social media, and RSS feeds so that you’re alerted when they release reports related to your work. If you’re looking for fresh data to connect your issue to, you can always start by perusing news releases related to policy and public interest or other fields.
4. Make it new.
Look at your paragraph again. Does it promise and deliver something new to your target supporters? If the answer’s not “yes,” go back and revise. You don’t have to have a new program or even new data; if you’re giving them a new way of looking at an old issue, that can be enough, especially if you’re working to update your messages to reach millennials and you’re giving them a new way of getting engaged by volunteering or donating.
5. Don’t confuse length for quality.
Although infographics can be long and involved, you don’t have to organize a scroll-a-thon to get your point across. The simple infographic below shows how organizations use the inbound marketing methodology to achieve their goals for fundraising, volunteerism, and participation. As a nonprofit marketing agency and an inbound marketing firm, we use this all the time to explain what we do. The details of inbound marketing are complicated, but this graphic gets the point across in just a few words words.
6. Stay true to your brand.
Infographics should be graphically rich, and you may be tempted to have your designer create something totally original-looking. But make sure your infographic fits with your brand style. If your infographic is successful, it will be shared widely, so make the connection to your organization clear. At a minimum, place your organization’s name and / or logo somewhere on the infographic so that viewers can get more of your valuable information and join your organization. If you don’t have a brand style guide, this is a good time to have your design firm develop one for you.
7. Use your infographic to draw traffic to your website.
Promote your infographic via email and social media—with a link to a page on your website that tells the complete story, and includes calls to action that visitors can use to sign up for your emails, download your publications, volunteer, donate, or get involved in other ways.
Check out the Yodelpop Pinterest portfolio for some of the infographics we’ve helped our clients create. And if you’d like help creating an infographic that helps you tell your story and engage your ideal supporters, send us your project details.
Nonprofit storytelling can be a powerful tool to attract and motivate donors. A story can spur someone to take action because suddenly the cause is more than just an abstract idea—it’s a real situation affecting real people. Because of the identifiable victim effect, when you put faces to those being impacted rather than referring to general people groups, supporters can form genuine connections with your cause and be more willing to help. A deep emotional connection is a strong motivator to not only donate, but to become the ultimate champion for an organization: a loyal donor, fundraiser, and lifetime supporter.
To reap the benefits of storytelling, you need to know how to construct a story and effectively communicate it to your audience. This infographic walks you through the steps of telling a powerful impact story.
When you leverage storytelling to engage audiences and attract donors, those supporters are likely immediately more invested than if they had simply read a mission statement. Whether you choose to tell stories through written word, photo, video, or a combination, make sure you include the elements outlined above.
Check out the following posts to dig into more nonprofit storytelling tips, stellar examples, and to learn how your organization can grow through effectively telling your story.
To learn more about how top nonprofits use storytelling to drive donations and engagement, check out the recordings from the Collaborative: Virtual Sessions. To get an idea of the content you can expect, check out these two storytelling videos from previous years:
Although a nonprofit organization is not required to file annual reports, the document can be an effective tool to showcase your achievements during the past year and thank those who helped you get there.
by Roberta Codemo
updated February 19, 2021 · 3 min read
A nonprofit organization is an organization that is granted tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax code. Nonprofits include charitable, educational, and religious organizations. Filing annual reports helps you foster relationships with donors and sponsors and recognize people who have helped you reach your goals.
Nonprofit Annual Report
A nonprofit annual report documents what your organization has accomplished during the previous year and looks ahead towards the future. Your audience may include current and potential donors and sponsors, private foundations, supporters, and even the public.
This document is a valuable communications tool, as it provides the opportunity to talk about your organization’s mission, projects, and finances and recognize your supporters. In this way, the report conveys your organization’s commitment towards transparency and builds trust with your audience.
Annual Report Best Practices
The design and content of nonprofit annual reports vary, but it’s a good idea to incorporate the following tips:
- Have a plan. Your report needs to have a clear purpose. The report serves as a tool to persuade your audience to support your cause.
- Focus on donor accomplishments. It’s easy for a nonprofit to only focus on its accomplishments over the past year. But remember, your accomplishments wouldn’t happen without the help of your supporters.
- Use visuals to engage readers. Visuals are a great way to convey complex financial data so readers can understand it.
- Be honest. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, so let your readers know what challenges your organization faced during the past year and how you overcame—or hope to overcome—them.
- Recognize major donors. Recognizing your supporters’ accomplishments shows your appreciation for their hard work and dedication. Give them a chance to share their story.
- Call to action. One of the objectives of your report is to get people involved, so make sure your readers know how they can help support your cause.
Elements of a Nonprofit Annual Report
Although nonprofits are not required to file annual reports, if you do decide to create one, there are certain elements you should include, no matter what type of organization yours is:
- Mission statement. Your mission statement is a one-sentence description of your organization’s values and purpose.
- List of accomplishments. This is the most important section of your report. Highlight three to five core themes and include the major achievements in each of these areas.
- Financial documents. This section should summarize your organization’s revenues and expenses. Include infographics—bar graphs, pie charts, tables, etc.—so readers can see at a glance how you manage your funds. Include a short narrative written in plain English that explains the meaning behind the numbers.
- Major donors and volunteers. This is the time to thank your biggest financial supporters. Include your major contributors, staff members, and board members.
Maintaining Tax-Exempt Status
While nonprofit organizations don’t have to pay federal income taxes, they do need to file the Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax (Form 990), with the IRS to maintain their tax-exempt status. About 12 to 18 months after you file the return, which contains information about your organization’s mission, programs, and finances, it becomes accessible to the public upon request.
An organization with more than $200,000 in gross revenues or assets worth more than $500,000 must file Form 990, while nonprofits with more than $50,000 in gross revenues can file either Form 990 or Short Form Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax (Form 990-EZ).
Nonprofits that make $50,000 or less in gross revenues don’t have to file the complete Form 990 but instead can file an e-Postcard (Form 990-N). The return is due by the 15th day of the fifth month after the end of the organization’s fiscal year. The due date can be extended for six months by filing an Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File an Exempt Organization Return (Form 8868) before the due date or else the organization loses its tax-exempt status.
Whatever type of company you work for, you want to make sure that you’re making the most of your marketing dollars, and this is especially relevant if you are part of a nonprofit organization. However, just because you are on a limited budget doesn’t mean you can’t market your organization successfully.
Below is a comprehensive guide to help you craft your nonprofit marketing plan along with ideas to make it happen.
Why nonprofit marketing is important
While your business is nonprofit, a smart marketing plan — as it does for all businesses — will give you a set of tools to communicate your mission, fundraise for donations and approach volunteers and advocates that will help you run your organization. This is what you can achieve with nonprofit marketing:
How to create a nonprofit marketing plan
Nonprofit marketing ideas
Here are a number of marketing channels and ideas that can inspire you when drafting your own marketing plan.
1. Build a website
Your website is like your online slice of real estate — a place to showcase all your initiatives, success stories, encourage people to support your cause and direct them to your social media channels to stay top of mind and on top of their feeds.
2. Send email newsletters
Research from Hubspot shows that 73 percent of millennials prefer to receive communication from organizations via email, which is why email is a great avenue for regular updates and boosting engagement. Create a cadence of emails so every person in your database stays informed and engaged. Set up a content calendar to send out regular newsletters.
3. Create video content
Video content is visual and dynamic and likely to grab your audience’s attention. It can be educational, emotional, and it’s shareable. You can create a video of the grassroots events you put on, your speaking engagements, testimonials from your supporters, or call out a donating challenge campaign where you spur your audience to hit a certain contribution target. This campaign , featured on Forbes magazine, did that to support a recovery fund for the bushfires in Australia.
Celebrating an anniversary can be a daunting opportunity.
There are events to plan, themes to develop, and strategies to discuss. One of my favorite articles about anniversaries is by the Rockefeller Foundation’s CEO, Judith Rodin, “Anniversaries are Not to Be Wasted.” In the article, she describes the opportunity of an anniversary, whether it’s 20 or 100 years.
However, many smaller nonprofits (and most are smaller than the Rodin’s organization) may be thinking how, with their limited resources, they can celebrate their anniversary. This blog post will outline easy visual strategies you can use to celebrate your anniversary throughout the year.
Refresh Your Logo
Reaching a big milestone like 10 or 30 years is a big achievement! It’s important to make sure as many people as possible know about it, and updating your logo is a great, easy way to make sure your anniversary is integrated into all your collateral for the year.
For their 25th anniversary, Mary’s Center added fireworks to their logo that fit the general style of their logo.
Last year, Williams Whittle introduced the “WW” icon into our branding. When it was time to celebrate our huge 50th anniversary, we knew we had to incorporate such a milestone. So, the creative team created the WW50 logo. This references both the 50 years Williams Whittle has served our clients and the 50 years ahead.
Update Your Website
If you’ve done the work to refresh your logo, update it on your website. Include it in the top header so that everyone who visits your website sees that you are celebrating an anniversary, instead of making them go to an event page or a blog post several clicks in.
Create a Great Giveaway
Even if you’re not having an anniversary celebration (but especially if you are), you should seriously consider creating a fun and appropriate giveaway for your volunteers, staff, donors, and other community members. I love this blog post from Hubspot “Even Swag Your Attendees Will Love…and Loathe” which outlines some very cool (and uncool) ideas for giveaways.
I highly recommend finding swag that connects to your mission. Does your nonprofit work in tech? Maybe a USB would be good. Financial literacy? Try a pocket calculator. Animal welfare? A lid for pet food is used and seen every day.
Don’t have the budget to print all new envelopes, brochures, and letterhead? No problem! Just get some simple stickers designed that can seal those envelopes, attach to brochures, and make it onto your letterhead. As an added bonus, stickers are very cheap ($3 for 24 on Vistaprint, and that’s without a discount, which is very easy to find for Vistaprint).
Design an Infographic
As we all know, infographics are a great way to share lots of information in a digestible format. Base your nonprofit infographic on your anniversary, and make sure you highlight both the accomplishments of your organization and the need that still exists. That will serve to show the incredible work your organization has done, but lead people to see how they can help you achieve even more in the future.
Or, you can make an infographic timeline of your organization. Think of the most important milestones, and highlight those in a visually-interesting infographic. WD-40 came out with one infographic spanning its over-50-year history.
An anniversary is absolutely an opportunity to celebrate, but it’s also an opportunity to build trust and awareness in your community. By employing some of these visual strategies, you can highlight your accomplishments and get more people involved in your mission (until you hit your next milestone, when you’ll have to do it all over again).
Allison is a nonprofit communications consultant and friend of Williams Whittle who specializes in creating affordable communications strategies for small nonprofits. She has five years of nonprofit and association experience including developing communications strategies, conducting an organizational rebrand, and building a custom social network.
A couple of weeks ago, I came across this superb infographic regarding the economic impact of the nonprofit sector. This was striking to me because I personally had tried to assemble similar data on numerous occasions over the last 30 years.
People have always inquired about how any businesses could survive, let alone thrive, serving this sector alone, since so little is really known by most people outside of this sector. The extent of the data presented below and the economic impact the data represents were even a mild shock to me.
My Top 3 Surprises
1. Public Sector Charities had the following:
- $1.51 TRILLION in Revenue
- $1.45 TRILLION in Expenses
- $2.71 TRILLION in Assets
That is economic impact is greater than most countries and truly illustrates how well managed the sector as a whole is, in my opinion.
2. One out of ten workers in the United States is employed by a nonprofit organization
The nonprofit sector is the 3 rd largest employer after retail and manufacturing with nearly 11 million paid employees. Perhaps more importantly, it is one of the few large areas of the U.S. economy adding jobs at a rate of nearly 2% per year!
I have always felt the nonprofit world smoothed out the larger boom and bust shifts in our economy.
3. 26.8% of all Americans volunteered in 2011
Together those dedicated individuals provided nearly 8 billion hours of service! Could you imagine what could be achieved in 50% of Americans volunteered? Even if just the retired population, who is often searching for meaningful endeavors, led the way with greater than 50% helping in some manner, the impact would be huge. Nearly every American has talent to give back, let’s hope this percentage keep climbing.
Economic Impact can be Measured in Different Ways
Obviously, our beloved nonprofit sector is a force to be reckoned with in so many areas. However, economic impact pales in comparison to the huge impact the combined mission outcomes have had and will have on our world. I only wish we could create an infographic that could even remotely reflect the huge outcomes that happen every day, month and year! Perhaps this will be possible as more and more charities implement proper measurement.
A Special Treat for the Holiday Season
My good friend and Bloomerang partner Pamela Grow, who provides so much help and encouragement for the small fundraising organization, contacted me this last week about her second-annual 12 Days of Christmas Nonprofit Gifts Giveaway.
This is truly a gift for our beloved nonprofit sector and includes outstanding tools and education items from twelve of the top consultants and experts serving the charity world. It is worth checking out and could provide some marvelous brain stimulation around those holiday meals!
When starting a nonprofit it’s easy to drown in a sea of paperwork, but using a nonprofit lawyer can save you from that demise. They draft documents, file forms and help you with any legal questions or problems that might occur.
These five tips will help you finding a nonprofit lawyer to help you navigate those rough waters.
Look Outside Your Board
Many nonprofits ask attorneys to be on their board of directors for their expertise and experience as a lawyer. However, this should not be your first method in finding a lawyer to help your organization. A lawyer on your board brings a wealth of experience and a legal background to help advise the board decisions, but don’t expect that person to perform legal endeavors or defend you in court. A conflict of interest would be created if the lawyer participated on your board of directors. It could also put the attorney in a position to be called in case of a lawsuit, and even possibly lose clients or suffer legal ramification. Before you ask a lawyer to serve on your board, be sure to lay out the expectations so they know what their legal and ethical obligations will be.
It can be difficult to find a lawyer who has nonprofit experience. The quickest way to find one is asking other nonprofit executives who their lawyer is and how they found them. And when you’re asking around, check to see if any local law firms perform pro bono work for nonprofits.
You could also open up the phone book (yes, those still exist) and look in the Yellow Pages. But if you can’t find one, look online for local attorneys and scan for ones that work with charities and nonprofits. If you find a couple of lawyers or firms that work in nonprofit law, be sure to ask your network if they have ever worked with those attorneys.
Find Referral Sources
There are many services you can use to help find a nonprofit lawyer. Combine these services with the previous step of asking around to really jump start your search.
- Attorney or Lawyer Referral Service (ARS) – Gives the names of lawyers who have selected themselves to be listed under nonprofit or charity. Only use an ARS that is operated by your local bar association and not an independent group of lawyers.
- Bar Associations – You can start at the national level with the American Bar Association website or go to the state level, but know that some states only allow members to search their directory.
- Nonprofit Associations – Just like lawyers have associations, so do nonprofits. Consult with the local or regional chapter to see if they have any attorney referral services.
- Law schools – Check with the local law school to see if they have a clinic or other program that can help you out.
- Martindale-Hubbell – A directory of over a million attorneys with ratings based on experience, expertise and integrity.
- Law.com – You can search for lawyers under categories such as nonprofit or environmental law.
- Other websites – Lawyers.com (allows you to search by state and topic area) FindLaw.com (it doesn’t have categories of charitites, but it has a database based on experience) and Law for Change (Search by state or topic).
Meet with the Potential Attorneys
Take advantage of the fact that many lawyers will give you a free consultation. When you go, bring another person with you so you can get another opinion about the lawyer. Have a list of questions to ask themost. You will want to know what their experience is working with nonprofits and the related laws. Ask if the lawyer requires a retainer and what type of services the firm offers—as well as the possible fees, and if they offer a lower rate for nonprofit organizations. Here is an overview of 12 questions to ask your potential lawyer.
Create a Performance Review Schedule
After you take care of the initial paperwork, don’t cut your lawyer free. Stay in touch and review the lawyer’s performance annually to make sure they are meeting your needs. If they aren’t, don’t be afraid to cut the cord and look for a new attorney. Working with your attorney should be a mutually beneficial partnership. If they aren’t treating you as an important client, then move on.
The legal issues don’t stop once you are incorporated. Be sure to ask them about any other issues that arise whether it is about IRS rules and regulations, conflict of interest issues, dealing with removal of leadership (or volunteers) or record keeping. There will be many more questions even after your organization is up and running. Go to your lawyer when these questions arise—it’s why you hired them.
Even the most organized, responsible, and amiable board needs to document its activities, internal rules, and processes.
Some of the documentation is legally required while some is simply helpful to have. Some documents should be available to the public while others must be kept confidential. Some serve as guidelines for decision making while others are part of the record keeping. For a board that takes its fiduciary role seriously, written rules simply are part of necessary risk management.
Here are the various documents to which your board needs to pay attention.
Articles of incorporation
- Legal document that outlines the general purpose and structure of the organization and its intent to operate exclusively with a nonprofit purpose
- Filed with the state when the nonprofit is incorporated; need to be refiled if any key issues change
- Usually follow a form and contain a minimum of detail because they are cumbersome to change.
- Must not contradict state nonprofit incorporation statutes
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- Significant written rules that establish the governance structure of a nonprofit
- Define the duties, authority limits, and principal operating procedures for the board and board members
- Include the highest-level board policies
- Should not contain overly detailed procedures or restrictions as changes must be approved by the membership or full board
- Should be reviewed for fine-tuning every few years
- Some apply to the organization, such as whistleblower and gift acceptance policies
- The chief executive is responsible for personnel policies and office procedures but the board should ensure that they exist and are adequate.
- Some supplement the bylaws and guide board practices and oversight procedures, such as investment, internal controls, and executive compensation policies
- Some direct staff operations, such as personnel policies.
- Operating guidelines for board and staff
- Explain how to implement a policy, e.g., a separate document that explains step-by-step how to remove a board member or resolve a conflict.
- Serve as standard operating procedures.
Job descriptions and charters
- Expectations for individual board members, officers, committees, task forces, and the chief executive
Documents the record board decisions and activities
- Meeting minutes
- IRS Form 990 — All nonprofits must indicate whether the board has approved certain policies and followed specific processes when making governance decisions. The laws do not require any policies but no board should be comfortable reporting that it does not have conflict-of-interest, whistleblower, or document-destruction policies.
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101 Resource | Last updated: December 26, 2019
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