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Data and Storytelling-a Winning Combination

I have always believed that “data gets grants, and stories get donors.” Put the two together, and you have a recipe for a successful proposal. We know how important data is for evaluation and outcomes in a proposal, but how do you take raw data and put it into a compelling, easy-to-read narrative for funders? Using data with portals is not an issue when you fill in numbers, but what if you have a three to five-page proposal narrative you need to craft?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Increase your storytelling by inserting a table, chart, or infographic to present your data effectively.

  • Ensure that you research the funder and choose data appropriate for the RFP that aligns with their vision.

  • Break up wording with compelling visuals like charts or infographics, but don’t overdo it! The proposal could end up more distracting and confusing than just a narrative.

  • If you need to guide your audience through a program, wording and a visual can assist their understanding of the program model.

Here is an example of a simple infographic that shows the progression of students through a youth development program from 7th to 12th grade. The focus and activities of each program are detailed in the proposal’s narrative.

Data is powerful, but stories bring an emotional connection and humanize the numbers. Remember to protect and ensure the individual’s story and privacy while maintaining accuracy, cultural sensitivity, and ethical guidelines. Stories are often better at changing hearts, as well as funding decisions! As a former capital campaign fundraiser, I intentionally craft messaging so an organization, by itself, is not the story’s hero. Instead, the heroes are funders and donors who enable the organization to build on its mission and become the solution.

Social media platforms offer real-time ways to tell stories, engage with your audience, and enhance the organization’s impact. Do you have a well-known volunteer or funder that follows the organization on social media? Can this person be an influencer? Nothing is more powerful than an active supporter who highlights the organization’s success while telling a great story.

Hopefully, DEI is part of your outreach and messaging to promote inclusivity for stronger connections to your audience. Involve your staff with various backgrounds, experiences, and diverse points of view. This will ensure your DEI efforts are authentic, as well as make connections with supporters from different backgrounds.

As the world moves into AI and large language models, many grant professionals believe technologies like Chat GPT can assist with AI algorithms for efficiency in content, communication, and other areas. While I have a difficult time understanding how AI can detect the right place to insert visuals, include a moving, emotionally connected story, and choose data targeted to the specific interests of a foundation, I have no doubt that AI will perfect this ability. Soon, everyone will need to embrace this technology.

Until then, I will do my best to ensure nonprofits have strong storytelling and visual data reflective of their mission and messaging.

On your next proposal narrative, think and ponder these questions:

How often do you use charts, infographics, and other visual data in a proposal to deliver information?

When was the last time you were able to include a nonprofit’s story in a proposal?

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