The Importance of Visualizations

Activating your Data

Creating a dashboard, report, or chart to activate your data is no easy feat. You must be able to meet your audience where they are but be resilient enough to stand up to any questions.  Careful visualization choice makes your data story accessible to people of all data literacy levels.

Following these three steps when creating your reports will lead to more legible and impactful data stories that can lead to actionable business insights for your organization.

1. Understand the question that you are trying to answer

A thorough understanding of the question you are asking is imperative to successfully activating data.  Taking the time to step back from the rows upon rows of information to think about what is relevant to your questions allows you to see the forest through the trees.  Having a clear vision of your question before and throughout your development process allows you to filter through the data noise and start down the path of visualization success.

2. Selecting the correct visualization

Now you know which information you are going to use to tell your story, but how should you display it?  There are so many different visualization types to choose from, each displaying an intricate portion of your data story, but I have found that these three types are my go-to chart types.  Simple yet effective in displaying most of your data-driven questions, the line chart, bar chart, and pie chart are visualization powerhouses when used appropriately.

  • Use a line chart when displaying data over time. This simple plot over time allows trends to present themselves.  This chart type is also great for comparing like metrics over time to see a correlation between them.  Pro tip: make sure to keep it simple and not compare more than three metrics at a time; a busy chart is a useless chart.
  • Use a bar chart when displaying data by category. Bar charts are the quintessential visualization in a dashboard or report because of the readability and clear comparative evaluation of data.  Giving performance by giving channel, number of donors by donor segment, and open rate by content theme are a few examples of the stories that can be told effectively using a bar chart. Pro tip: use different coloured bars within your chart for more exaggerated comparison.
  • Use a pie chart when displaying data as parts of a whole. Want to see what percentage of your donor file are recurring donors?  The pie chart effortlessly illuminates answers to these types of questions.  Pro tip: sort your pie pieces clockwise from largest to smallest for greater visual impact.

3. The Devil’s in the details

Data by nature is very detail oriented, but the attention to details within your report, dashboard, or chart make a huge difference.  Making sure that all your axes display consistent labels, clearly labelling KPI’s, adding a subtitle for clarity around the measurements you are performing, or keeping colors consistent across the report are subtle details that are often overlooked that impact the readability and usability of your report.  We want to make sure the report looks clean and inviting so our end users will be excited to explore the data for more insights.  At the end of the day, if it is not user friendly, nobody is going to be able to use your report to see the story the data is plotting.

Double check those small details to enhance user experience to make your report approachable for everyone on your team. Making sure you have a clearly defined objective before diving into the data brings clarity to the data you need to tell your story and sets you up to successfully select the best chart type to narrate your findings.  Keeping these three tips in mind when creating your next visualization will allow you to witness the actionable insights within your data to your team and organization for greater impact.


+ More Insights from Dunham+Company: “The Danger of Misreading the Data”

Ready to take the next step? Dunham+Company is here to help your organization have more impact and establish deeper relationships with your donors and supporters. Contact Bethany Cranfield at 469-454-0100 to get more information.