An infographic is a visual presentation of information that instructs or educates the reader on a specific topic.
When infographics are done well, they grab our attention, teach us something we didn’t know, and can even motivate us to take action on what we’ve learned.
When infographics are done poorly, however, they leave us overwhelmed with data, more confused about the topic, and unsure what to take away.
An infographic differs from a “data visualization,” which uses images to represent a data set — though an infographic may include one or more data visualizations.
The popularity of infographics has increased as content providers have discovered their infographics outperforming traditional digital content like blog posts. In 2016, Contently examined 3,200 stories produced on their platform and found that infographics reached 54% more readers than blog posts. They had a higher completion rate, too.
Why do readers seem to prefer infographics to text media like blog posts?
Where text is slow, infographics can be fast. They allow us to not only consume information more efficiently but also deliver content that results in better comprehension and engagement. Research suggests that our brains process images 60,000x faster than text. In addition, presentations that use visuals have been found to be 43% more persuasive than those without visuals.
Intuitively, we all know this is true. Most people can process a subway map a heck of a lot faster than a text-based list of train stops.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can just throw a bunch of pie charts and clip art together and create an infographic. There are a few key rules of the road when it comes to creating effective infographics. But with some careful planning, nonprofits can create powerful infographics that engage donors and move them to support their cause.
In our experience, the best infographics produced by nonprofit organizations share three fundamental traits:
- Clarity of message
- Simplicity of structure
Clarity of Message: Maximum Impact, Minimal Text
Before you begin laying out your infographic, you want to ensure that you have a clear focus. In fact, we recommend that your infographic have a singular focus — one specific topic or point you want the reader to better understand. All of the data and images you present will center around that choice.
Ask yourself three questions:
- What main point do you want to convey to readers?
- What data best supports that message?
- How can you represent that data visually?
While you may be tempted to include lots of information about your nonprofit in your infographic, we caution against doing so. As you’ll see below, you’ll have the opportunity to direct the reader to where they can learn more. In the infographic itself, include the minimal amount of information about your nonprofit that you need to make or support your point.
While images convey information faster than text, the real power of infographics comes from the connections readers make between images. If you present a fact to your reader, they now know something they didn’t before. But when you create a connection for them between two different facts — especially a connection they’ve never thought of before — you open them up to a fresh perspective.
This is important for nonprofits because the kind of learning that changes attitudes and behavior comes from perspective shifts. If I’ve never donated before, why donate now? A perspective shift. If I’ve never cared about your cause, why care now? A perspective shift.
For an example of juxtaposition, take a look at this excerpt from an infographic on the carbon budget by the World Resources Institute.
Notice how the image of the earth is presented twice: first showing the percentage of the carbon budget used at the time the infographic was published (2011), and then again projected for 2045. The graying out of the earth in the first image illustrates the problem visually but the juxtaposition of the two images makes the point…. We must decrease carbon emissions now or we’re in big trouble.
When you are designing your infographic, think in terms of creating visual patterns for your reader. Consider the main point you intend to convey and ask yourself, “ What image patterns will make the point most dramatically?”
Simplicity of Structure: A Before & After Story
Once you’ve chosen your focus and collected data and images to support it, and you’ve thought about how to use juxtaposition for impact, you’re ready to assemble all the pieces.
Your infographic should tell a visually compelling story. For a nonprofit organization, a story of transformation can be very effective. Like any good story of transformation, yours should include a clear sense of “before” and “after.”
Here’s how that would look in an infographic in its most basic form:
SECTION 1: Present a Clear Problem
First, establish that a problem exists. This introduces the reader to the world as it is now. One of the worst mistakes you can make with your infographic is failing to convey a problem, and instead jumping right into a solution.
The key to engaging readers’ attention is to communicate the main elements of the problem right from the start. You want a clear, eye-catching headline followed by relevant facts and data that highlight the core issue.
SECTION 2: Back Up Your Statement of the Problem
You shouldn’t assume readers will blindly accept your description of the issue. This is where statistics and facts, backed by cited sources, can help convey trustworthiness to the reader and provide third-party confirmation of the problem.
Remember that statistics are logical proof, but they tend to be boring. Ideally, you want to state the problem in such a way that it feels like an injustice or a wrong that needs to be righted. So find creative ways to present your statistics visually and produce a dramatic effect. Boldly call out important facts, figures, quotes, or data that confirm the problem. Consider using large text, photos, illustrations and/or simple graphics to illustrate how the people/animals/places served by your organization are negatively impacted.
SECTION 3: Present Solutions
Next, present your nonprofit’s solution to the problem in order to show the reader your vision of how the world could be. By contrasting the state of things now (the problem) with a vision of the future (your solution), you prepare readers for an invitation to get involved and help.
Again, be creative in how you present this information visually for maximum impact on the reader. Remember the power of juxtaposition and try to reuse visuals from the Problem section with notable differences. (For example, if you used illustrations of water bottles to show a water shortage in Section 1, you could use the same illustrations in greater quantity to show the positive impact your nonprofit makes.)
SECTION 4: Call to Action / Learn More
Finally, include a strong Call to Action (CTA), which typically includes a short command statement (like “Learn More” or “Take Action”) and a URL for the reader to follow.
It might be tempting to include elaborate instructions for how the reader can get involved and help, but you are better served directing them to a web landing page with detailed information. Following a URL is a simple next step that puts the reader into a sequence of action. On your web landing page, you can encourage further action by asking people to make a contribution, for example, or sign a petition.
Depending on the nature of your infographic, your CTA might be an invitation for the reader to simply learn more about the issue or your nonprofit instead of taking a very specific action. If your goal is to raise awareness, your CTA could ask readers to share the infographic. (In that case, be sure to include clear sharing instructions.)
Sometimes it can be more effective to skip section 3 (solutions). If your CTA is your solution, or the problem is especially urgent, you might be able to jump from section 2 (the problem) straight to section 4 (CTA).
The Bottom Line
Well-crafted infographics can help sway an audience with emotion and data, which can significantly increase a nonprofit’s visibility and thus its bottom line.
Every step of the infographic creation process should prioritize simplicity, with the ultimate goal of creating content that is clear, concise, compelling and to the point.
Follow the guidelines in this article and you’ll create infographics that are easy to digest and, even more important, difficult to forget.
Download free IPM Advancement infographics and white papers on topics like donor retention, fundraising strategy, financial stability, nonprofit staff retention, and more in the Learn section of our website.