Libris: 3 Tips for Impactful Data-Driven Visual Storytelling

Drake Strategies Visual Storytelling

This blog originally appeared on Libris by Photoshelter on August 9, 2018. You can find the original blog post here

Data and visual storytelling make up a one-two punch for brands struggling to cut through the clutter and engage their audiences. 

Every day, through their work at Drake Strategies, strategy consultant Stefani Drake and photographer Joshua Drake help nonprofits and NGOs, businesses and humanitarians create visually engaging, data-driven content. At the 2018 AMA Nonprofit Conference, they shared best practices for combining data and visual storytelling to improve your marketing results.

Now, these experts are sharing their secrets with us. Here are three tips for impactful data-driven visual storytelling – straight from Stefani Drake.

Strategy Consultant Stefani Drake’s 3 Tips for Data-Driven Storytelling

1. Use data to tell a story.

When someone hears data, they often think of data engineers or Cambridge Analytica. Rest assured, the point of this post isn’t to make you feel inadequate, it is to empower you with tools to spot trends in your available data.

When looking at data, you need to have the full picture. Pull in every resource available to you, including: website analytics, social media analytics, email analytics, field + program data, monitoring + evaluation, donor databases and more. There are several platforms available to you, like CyfeHubspot + CrowdSkout that can take in your available data, compare it side by side and give you a better understanding of where your challenges are, what message is working and where you need to shift your focus.

The point of data isn’t to overwhelm, it is to inform you on who your audience is, what they are responding to and why they are most likely to engage with your message. So ask yourself questions. Ask yourself why a social media post may have been more effective than the previous. Figure out why certain donors dropped off last year. And experiment so that you have more information to compare. 

Once you understand who you are engaging with, what compels them to take action and what message is most effective, you are well on your way to telling a powerful, action driven story.

2. Capture attention with creative, consistent design.

Next, you need to package your information in creative, compelling ways. Good design will capture people’s attention. Paragraphs of text won’t. 

But let’s think creatively for a moment. If your organization served 2,500 people last year, so what? How is that relatable to someone on Instagram? A more powerful message is showing that nearly 7 people a day walked through your doors last year. 

Get creative. 

Be consistent.

What do we mean by that? When you’re scrolling Instagram, think of those accounts where you immediately recognize a post, without even looking at who posted it. Consistency creates brand awareness and allows your supporters to spot you in a crowded room. 

And for those people who don’t have a graphic designer in-house, have no fear. There are user friendly graphic design tools like Canva and Adobe Spark that make it easy for you to set your brand’s style and tone. And Lightroom has filters you can use to keep a consistent look on all your photos.

3. Connecting the head and the heart.

By now you know the importance of a story, but it’s the imagery that you use which truly will captivate your audience. The average lifespan of a photo is 7 seconds. So how do you arrest your audience and engage them?

Video is a great tool to captivate your audience and double the time they will view your content. We always reference a recent study by Libris on visual marketing trends. More and more brands are investing in video.

Our team photographer, Joshua Drake, recommends learning to tell a story in four photos or less: sense of place, interaction, details and portraiture. 

Here’s Joshua’s take:

“It seems impossible at first, but when you think through how you can tell your audience the story you see unfolding, you have to give them a sense of place, an action shot and a picture of the person for whom you are telling the story. If you have the space, a detail shot always adds a layer of context. Ultimately, your goal is to arrest people with an image – so that they stop the scroll – and begin to relate to the story you are telling. If you can achieve that, you are well on your way to creating connectedness with your audience and inspiring them to take action.”

Want to learn more? View all of our best practices here. The difference between good storytelling and great storytelling is in the details. Elevate your brand and expand your impact.

Kristin Twiford Libris

Kristin is the Content Marketing Manager for Libris. She covers visual storytelling trends and best practices here on the Libris blog and uses her background in television production, daily news and communications to shoot, produce, edit and publish video content for social media, marketing and sales.

InterAction: Reflections From Forum 2018

Stefani Zimmerman Drake InterAction Forum 2018

This blog originally appeared on InterAction's blog on July 5, 2018. You can find the original post here

With an increasing partisan divide throughout our nation and the world, it's important to tell your story. I acknowledge that it is easier said than done, but after attending Forum 2018 I cannot stress how vital it is to share your passions with the world. 

As I sat in breakout sessions, watched humanitarians receive awards and networked with amazing people who give their all, it became clear to me that your stories need to be told. The story of InterAction bringing together hundreds of change-makers is important and needs to be told. The innovative solutions to solving complex problems needs to be told. The unifying passion of thinking beyond oneself to reach others needs to be told. 

My team was awarded the opportunity to lead a breakout session at the Forum. Our goal? To empower humanitarians with visual branding tips that will further their impact. We want to make this information accessible for all because we see your passion and believe in your mission.

Below are three best practices to propel you and your team forward to reach the right audience:

1. Not all data is created equal, but all of it is important.

Gone are the days of silos and huge corporate structures and in are the days of collaboration and information sharing. You need to view all available analytics to spot trends, failures and implement strategy, but you should never forget that everyone on the team holds valuable information that needs to be shared to strengthen your story.

Case and point? M+E data. While we work hard to identify indicators and measure goals, outcomes, and outputs for our log-frames, none of that matters if no one knows about it. Of course, you will share this information with your partners, but how can you share your successes, failures and discoveries with your communications team so that they can bring that story to life?

When an organization has strong internal communications, it will have strong external communications. Make it easy for your teams to share stories, pitch new ideas and submit honest feedback. Only then will you be able to implement a strong communication strategy that reaches more people.

2. Consistency is key for branding.

While we all understand the value of data, the importance of a consistent brand can often be overlooked. Remember, for someone outside of your organization to remember your message you must reach them 7 times in 3 different formats. So, make it easy for them and stand out in a crowd.

While design and branding may sound intimidating for type-A data nerds like myself, it is vitally important for others to remember your organization. So be consistent and use clean design. If your logo colors are grey and red, don't use purple and pink on social media. Your brand should look and feel the same across all platforms.

3. Imagery connects the head to the heart.

Let's face it. Text heavy reports, collateral materials, and online news articles don't make nearly the same impact as a simple photograph. Bring your content to life with imagery and video. A good photo can make someone stop and pay attention. In a world of over-saturation, you can't afford anything else.

And telling your story through photographs can be simple enough. If you have to tell a story in three photos or less, make sure you show the landscape/setting, capture an empowering portrait, and show your work in action. 

Whether you are part of a large NGO, a small grassroots organization, or are a boots-on-the-ground humanitarian, your work is important and deserves an audience willing to receive it. Through a smart digital strategy and simple design, you can reach more people and inspire them to take action.

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Stefani is a strategy consultant + speaker with over a decade of experience working in the US government, international NGO space and with nonprofits. Currently on the UNDP's Roster of Communication Experts in Subsaharan Africa + certified in Google Analytics, Stefani is an analytical thinker and thoughtful storyteller who works with nonprofits + humanitarians to define who they are, elevate their influence and broaden their impact through strategic communications, branding + advocacy. Stefani lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, twin girls and rescue dogs.

The Power in Unifying Voices

US Congressman and Human Right Champion Frank Wolf | Drake Strategies

It's not every day you bring together 15,000 refugees to advocate for peace. So, when the opportunity arises, you must have a unified message in order to amplify your impact and create change.

On Monday, we organized an advocacy day for Karen refugees from Burma. Their message was not only about the safety and security of their families back home, it was about the safety and security of all persecuted people within Burma. That is powerful.

But why? 

If you have studied Burmese history, you may know that it is common for ethnic groups to be pitted against one another. Having no authority over what is taught in their schools, children are forced to learn whatever the government tells them to and they have little access to free press or alternative news sources. 

Knowing this, it is quite impressive that an ethnic group that has faced persecution for decades, stands united with all religious and ethnic minorities: including the Kachin, Shan and Rohingya. Their message for peace extends far beyond their immediate concern for family members, as they have unified and advocate for peace for all people who live in Burma.

That is powerful.

Our role was to facilitate press, connect the leadership team with the high-level leaders who can advocate that the US government change policy, and bring human rights leaders to speak at the event. Former Congressmen and Human Rights Champions Frank Wolf and Tony Hall spoke to the crowd of 15,000 at the US Capitol, calling on the government to reimpose sanctions and formally take steps to launch an investigation into genocide.

These actions will make a difference. As the Karen come back to Washington every year and share their stories of violence and persecution, they are unifying their message and reaching the changemakers who can implement US policy. 

Everyone who traveled to Washington on Monday is to be applauded for their perseverance and dedication to all minorities within Burma. Together, their unified voice will make a difference for all. 

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Stefani is a strategy consultant + speaker with over a decade of experience working in the US government, international NGO space and with nonprofits. Currently on the UNDP's Roster of Communication Experts in Subsaharan Africa + certified in Google Analytics, Stefani is an analytical thinker and thoughtful storyteller who works with nonprofits + humanitarians to define who they are, elevate their influence and broaden their impact through strategic communications, branding + advocacy. Stefani lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, twin girls and rescue dog. 

Reflections from the #NonprofitSTRONG Summit

Drake Strategies Nonprofit Strong Summit

Here at Drake Strategies, we believe in empowering nonprofits and others who aim to go good throughout the world. As part of our story, we are committed to sharing our knowledge with others so that all nonprofits and NGOs, regardless of size and budget, are able to apply best practices to their work and create measurable impacts in their field.

Last week, our mission took us to Raleigh, NC to speak at YNPN Triangle’s #NonprofitSTRONG Summit. Our focus? Visual branding for impact. Whether you’re a team of 1 or a team of 100, our belief is that a strong communications strategy, coupled with consistent branding and imagery, will create the impact you need to do more good.

1. Data

Communications should begin and end with data. Whether you are examining your Google Analytics, social media + email analytics, donor database or programmatic data, it all matters. Your data will tell you what resonates with your audience and what falls flat. Pay attention to your message failures so that you can change course and spend that energy on messaging that works and gets the results you need to expand your misson.

Looking at all your data sets together also helps you spot trends. You can get a better picture of your audience through your data and learn how they prefer to hear from you, what moves them to action and what may have prompted them to get involved in the first place. Once you know this, you are equipped to map out a stronger, more effective communications strategy. And don’t forget that everyone on your team has data - from programming, success stories or creative brainstorming sessions, collaboration is key to a stronger, more unified message.

2. Design

Now that you have your data, what do you do with it? Graphics can make your data more compelling. For example, if your nonprofit treated 2,400 people last year you can make it more moving by saying that every day, 7 people walked through your doors. Then visually show that with a door and seven people icons.

Branding is important too. Whether you have a large budget allocated toward branding and marketing, or a small one, it's important to remain consistent. Have a set font, color palate and writing guidelines. You want your organization to look, sound and feel the same across all communication platforms so that your supporters can recognize you in an instance.

3. Visuals

While understanding your data and having a consistent brand are important, you still need to move people to action. What better way to do this than through imagery? Photographs and video are the most effective way to get people to stop and pay attention to your story. Using quality images that tell your story will create inspired action.

As a word of caution, be sure that you are empowering others through imagery and telling a powerful story that you would be proud to be part of. Thankfully, most nonprofits agree that using imagery to manipulate others to give is outdated and wrong. The focus should be on coming together and lifting one another up. 

In the end, whether you have a budget for brand development or not, any organization can achieve a cohesive, powerful brand by understanding its data, using consistent design elements and telling a story through imagery. Your passion for the work you do deserves a brand that moves people to action. These simple best practices will put you on the path to expanding your influence and achieving the mission you set out to do.

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Stefani is a strategy consultant + speaker with over a decade of experience working in the US government, international NGO space and with nonprofits. Currently on the UNDP's Roster of Communication Experts in Subsaharan Africa + certified in Google Analytics, Stefani is an analytical thinker and thoughtful storyteller who works with nonprofits + humanitarians to define who they are, elevate their influence and broaden their impact through strategic communications, branding + advocacy. Stefani lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, twin girls and rescue dog. 

How Data Gives You a Better Picture

When I'm speaking with nonprofits and NGOs, I fully expect that not everyone in the room is going to have access to analytics or all data points. After all, communications is usually reserved for a specific team and the siloing process begins. (That's a whole topic in and of itself, but we'll save that for later.)

However, I was shocked when I read a recent report from Google that stated only 17% of marketers looked at all their data together. My mind was blown. As communicators, we need to understand our audience. We need to know what drives them, what messaging inspires others and what falls flat. Data is at the foundation of any successful campaign.

But data doesn't just exist in Google or in our social media accounts. It can be pulled from the field, from projects, from donors, from our marketing work and more. In today's blog, I want to discuss the various types of data and how a small team can use them to bring synergy and purpose to any communications effort.

1. Data, Data, Data

There are the obvious ways a communications team collects data. Be it Google Analytics, social media analytics, or email analytics, just about every form of communication has performance indicators. But where else can you begin to understand supporters? Have regular lines of communication open both internally and externally so you can collect additional information.

Whether it is an occasional survey or focus group to your donors, team feedback or annual reviews, data can be harnessed from everyone your organization interacts with. And don't forget to loop in everyone on your team. From donor databases, to M+E tools in the field, everyone has valuable information to bring to the table.

2. Bringing it all Together

Now that you have all this data, let's take a closer look. Cyfe is a free tool that I love to use. It has a platform that allows you to examine your analytics side-by-side and get a realistic picture of what is and isn't working. There are great paid services for this as well, like HubSpot

Once you make it readily accessible, you can begin to dig in and look for trends. What message worked on all your platforms? Is one message more niche than the others? If so, it may be better suited for a smaller communication platform. The point is, until you begin to study your data and look at the overarching themes, you won't have the best understanding of who your audience is and what they are responding to. 

3. Seeing from a Bird's Eye View

It's easy to spot things right in front of you. When Instagram tells you what time of the day is best to post and Google tells you what channels people are coming from, that's all important. But the best picture of your impact is going to happen when you look at all available data. After all, when you have the window seat you snap the picture and share it with your friends. Similarly, with data you need to do the work to get you to the top and build out a stronger, more effective communications strategy. 

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Stefani is a strategy consultant + speaker with over a decade of experience working in the US government, international NGO space and with nonprofits. Currently on the UNDP's Roster of Communication Experts in Subsaharan Africa + certified in Google Analytics, Stefani is an analytical thinker and thoughtful storyteller who works with nonprofits + humanitarians to define who they are, elevate their influence and broaden their impact through strategic communications, branding + advocacy. Stefani lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, twin girls and rescue dog. 

Why Partnerships Matter

They say the best way to secure business is through relationships. That's probably why there are so many networking events and endless fundraising campaigns on social media. I have to agree, relationships add an element of trust that you can't find in paid marketing efforts. The rise of Instagram influencers and celebrities, which we feel as though we know, also adds an interesting element to the mix.

Here at Drake Strategies, we are fortunate to partner with the Commonwealth Cares Foundation for their annual Needtobreathe Classic. Each year, they host a golf tournament and concert to raise money for OneWorld Health. Their partnership with Needtobreathe has made a large impact beyond their immediate relationships. Why? Needtobreathe has a national celebrity that carries gravitas and exposes their fan base to the impact being made by partnering with Commonwealth Cares and OneWorld Health. 

Let's explore this case study further. 

1. Partnerships Expand Your Circle of Influence

Let's face it. We only have the time and bandwidth to get to know a fixed amount of people. No matter how great we are at fostering deep conversations, connecting on social media and following up via email, you can only learn to trust a handful of people at any given moment. So if we go in on a project alone, we're going to burn out and our impact will be limited.

Thus the value of partnerships. Collaborating with others not only exposes you to a new audience you wouldn't have previously met, it strengthens your impact and your idea. Feedback is always a good thing and when you team up, you will go further, faster.

2. Partnerships Inspire Others

The rise of technology can cause us to be more isolated. We use our phones as crutches and tend to tune out to the world around us and focus on our little island. That's fine, there's nothing wrong with that, but the human connection runs deep and at some point, we all need one another.

Enter partnerships. When we come together to do something greater than ourselves it grounds us, reminds us of our need for conversation and inspires everyone else watching online.

3. Together we will Change the World

In all seriousness, we only know what we know, but when we partner with others we are able to do tremendously more good in the world. Take Commonwealth Cares. A foundation that wanted to do more, so they partnered with a rock band that had the same goal. Their partnership is now a huge fundraising event for a global health nonprofit that has pioneered a sustainable healthcare model in East Africa and Central America. Pretty cool, right?

So let's use our collective voices to champion others. To create inspired action. To deepen our impact and empower each other. It's really that simple. 

Stefani Zimmerman Drake Strategies

Stefani is a strategy consultant + speaker with over a decade of experience working in the US government, international NGO space and with nonprofits. Currently on the UNDP's Roster of Communication Experts in Subsaharan Africa + certified in Google Analytics, Stefani is an analytical thinker and thoughtful storyteller who works with nonprofits + humanitarians to define who they are, elevate their influence and broaden their impact through strategic communications, branding + advocacy. Stefani lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, twin girls and rescue dog. 

The Connection Between Data + Storytelling

Stefani Drake at Yale

On Sunday, I spoke at Yale University for Unite for Sight’s Global Health and Innovation Conference. While I don’t have a breakthrough cure for a terminal illness or sustainable model for the developing world, I do have a deep appreciation for global health and the life saving work that is done throughout the world. My mission is simple, to weave available data into stories so that NGOs, medical institutions and researchers can expand their reach and impact the lives of more people.

This conference is different than many. It takes an interactive approach where the audience is encouraged to engage with speakers and talk collaboratively about the issues facing global health. It’s exciting, engaging and challenging. Unite for Sight has done a remarkable job at bringing together brilliant minds and innovative thinkers. My challenge to the group, how do you harness that energy and empower the audience to be a point of connection for their specific organization. I truly believe that any one person can create change that ripples throughout an organization, and below I touch on three ways it can be done.

1. Understanding Your Data

As a communicator, I believe in the power of data. It tells you who your audience is, what they respond to, when they take action and when your message fails. If you aren’t regularly reviewing your website, email and social media analytics, then you don’t have the pulse of your supporters, partners and donors. 

Similarly, those in the humanitarian field or research lab have valuable data and insights on programming. The communications team needs to work collaboratively with all departments in order to tell a story and work toward the mission of the organization. 

Your audience may span from government funders, corporate partners and grassroots supporters. They will each enter at various points of your messaging and be interested in a variety of stories, so it is imperative that you to analyze your data and see what stories people respond to, and what messages may not resonate. Harness the power of that information and focus your message on the areas that create someone to take action, while simultaneously learning from message failures. 

2. Clearly State Your Goals

A roadmap is important when working on storytelling. That’s where data is useful. When you know that you want to raise awareness in 10 more communities, or fundraise an additional $10,000 for a project, or engage 100 more volunteers, you can measure and track your progress. The more specific and clear you are with your communication goals, the more you can rely on your data to guide you and build out a successful roadmap to get you there.

For example, if you are a large NGO looking to scale into a new country and need funding to do so, you will likely write a lengthy grant full of budget projections, monitoring + evaluation tools, CVs for key staff, etc. All of this is important to a funder so that they know you are prepared and equipped to use their funding appropriately. The same principles should be applied in storytelling. If your goal is to raise $100,000 in grassroots donations through social media, then you need a comprehensive plan, backed by data, to get you there. 

All messaging should have purpose and when you figure out what it is you are trying to achieve, you can measure the results of your advocacy campaign or social fundraising efforts or year-end appeal and understand that one story may fall flat, but another inspired people to take action.

3. Collaborate    

While data can tell you if you’re on the right track, and your goals can bring your vision to life, collaboration is key to a truly successful organization. Every person on the team has a different perspective and understanding of the organization and it’s goals. Every person on the team also has access to various data points.

Never silo, always encourage the flow of information, a place to share and celebrate successes and a safe place to give feedback and report failures. When you work in synergy with the whole team, you are able to work more efficiently and powerfully toward your mission. Create healthy internal systems for communication so that you have access to all available data, learn about success stories in the field and quickly respond to and adjust strategies that aren’t working.

In the end, stories move people to action, but you need to understand what action you want people to take and be able to adjust your strategy along the way to meeting your goal. Harnessing your data takes you from your vision to achieving success.

 

Stefani Zimmerman Drake Headshot

Stefani is a strategy consultant + speaker with over a decade of experience working in the US government, international NGO space and with nonprofits. Currently on the UNDP's Roster of Communication Experts in Subsaharan Africa + certified in Google Analytics, Stefani is an analytical thinker and thoughtful storyteller who works with nonprofits + humanitarians to define who they are, elevate their influence and broaden their impact through strategic communications, branding + advocacy. Stefani lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, twin girls and rescue dog. 

Three Principles in Crisis Communication

Three Principles in Crisis Communications

In the wake of the Oxfam scandal, many NGOs are beginning to look inward and reassess HR policies and whether or not reporting systems are adequate. After all, it only takes one crisis to fully upend an organization. Rebuilding credibility takes time and considerable effort. In this particular instance, headline after headline appears as more damaging news is uncovered, and local communities are calling for more inclusion into the international aid process.

As with any crisis communication scenario, there are a few principles that should be used. These principles are timeless, but can often be overlooked when things are going well and organizations are growing. Unfortunately, it can take a crisis to reevaluate the internal health of an NGO. Now would be a good time for all organizations to pause and reflect on the guiding principles in public relations.

1. Tell the truth

As with any organization, problems will arise and it is how you respond that changes your trajectory. First and foremost, you must tell the truth. What happened. Who was involved. What systems failed to bring the situation to light sooner.

Looking inward at what roadblocks may have occurred along the way are important. Only when you discover the system(s) in place that failed, will you be able to confidently fix the problem and communicate to your team, stakeholders, partners and the public that you have done the hard and necessary work to weed out future issues.

While difficult, being humble, admitting failure and then proactively moving toward a solution is the only way to adequately rebuild and allow the time it will take to grow from hardship. 

2. Strengthen Your Communications

Many organizations spend a lot of time and money on their external presence and marketing. But what are you spending on your internal communications? Are you regularly evaluating reporting systems and following up on frustrations with innovative solutions? As the trend goes to remote employees, increased travel and expanding international offices, it is paramount to find creative ways to communicate with all of your employees.

Perhaps you have regular meetings and reviews with staff at your headquarters, but what about international staff? Does everyone have a safe, confidential way to share concerns, and also to share success stories? As technology evolves, there is no excuse not to set up a secure reporting system for all of your employees. If you’re responding to your followers on Instagram then there is no excuse not to prioritize the value your international staff bring to the table. 

3. Be Transparent and Proactive

Building off of points one and two, your team building efforts should be transparent and proactive. What do I mean by that? When someone from the field shares a success, everyone should know. Likewise, if someone raises a concern you should be quick to follow up and listen to their story. Everyone needs to feel that they are being heard and an open communication system can change the workplace culture and foster an environment of collaboration and team building.

Corporate, top-down structures are becoming a thing of the past. It is time to think outside of the box and ensure that all of your staff are engaged and that their voices are given a platform. When your priority is investing in your team and collectively working toward your mission in the field, you will be able to expand your impact and do more good. 

While you can’t control the actions of your employees, if you invest in your team and work to give everyone an opportunity to contribute, and act swiftly if misconduct is found, you can better recover from any failure. Operating from the heart of your mission and building a team culture around that will better position you in any crisis communication situation. 

Don’t be afraid to do the humbling work now and truly evaluate the health of your employee culture and what changes need to be made in order to build a stronger team that is inspired to be an extension of your mission throughout the world.

Stefani Zimmerman Drake

Stefani is a strategy consultant + speaker with over a decade of experience working in the US government, international NGO space and with nonprofits. Currently on the UNDP's Roster of Communication Experts in Subsaharan Africa + certified in Google Analytics, Stefani is an analytical thinker and thoughtful storyteller who works with nonprofits + humanitarians to define who they are, elevate their influence and broaden their impact through strategic communications, branding + advocacy. Stefani lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, twin girls and rescue dog. 

The Importance of Data in Highlighting Project Stories from the Field

Kez Data

It is an honor to write on the importance of using data to tell your project story. My name is Keziah Waweru, a Kenyan-born and bred data enthusiast with over six years experience as a Monitoring and Evaluation specialist in Africa.

“In God we trust; all others must bring data,” W. Edwards Deming

Data enthusiasts like myself live by the above mantra, since we acknowledge that without data we lack evidence that we can use to prove our project success. While data collection and analysis may seem tedious, overwhelming, complicated and time consuming, it is essential for us to appreciate the value added when there is data that speaks for you. This is especially useful for projects that aim to influence human behavior and perceptions, which is often more difficult to prove and takes time to achieve. 

Nevertheless, why is data important? I will use African proverbs to illustrate five points on why I believe data is key to highlighting your project success.

1. You can never say that your mother is the best cook unless you have tasted your neighbour’s food.

When implementing any project, we must always acknowledge the existence of other factors and actors that influence change. Therefore, we cannot claim the successes accomplished in a project unless we can prove the specific role that our intervention played. Data therefore helps us to narrow our focus on what value our interventions added despite the complexities that exit.

“A tree is known by its fruit” – harvest your fruits using data.

2. If you think you're too small to make a difference, you haven't spent a night with a mosquito.

Are there times in project implementation when you feel you have not accomplished much, at least not enough to embark on data collection? Do you sometimes feel like your interventions may be too minimal to produce big impact? Well, experience has taught me that it is very importance to gather project data continuously, however incremental it may be. Documenting gradual accomplishments is critical in project implementation. Success is rarely instantaneous. 

“If you wish to move mountains tomorrow, you must start by lifting stones today”- use data to capture your full story.

3. Every closed eye is not sleeping and every open eye is not seeing.

Data helps us to unearth some truths that we many not easily decipher by trusting what is on the surface. As the adage goes, ‘do not judge the book by its cover;' same goes for project successes, we must not base our project successes on our assumptions but on credible data. 

‘Do not think there are no crocodiles just because the water's calm’- let the data speak for you, no assumptions.

4. Do not look where you fell but where you slipped.

Data is also useful in helping us learn from our mistakes and understanding our gaps along the way. Otherwise, we can never attain our project success unless we can continuously correct and improve on our gaps throughout project implementation. Do not wait for the big bottlenecks to adapt to challenges; the earlier you foresee and correct your path, the better it will be in the end.

‘If you close your eyes to facts, you will learn through accidents’ – listen to your data and take early precautions.

5. It is the one who lives in the house who knows where the roof leaks.

Data helps us to tell our project successes from our beneficiary's perspective. As development practitioners, we cannot claim to fully understand the experiences of our target beneficiaries unless we hear from them. Continuous rapport with partners is key to collecting quality data for our projects.

He who is afraid to ask is ashamed of learning – learn from your data, through the perspective of the people who truly matter to the project.

In short, there are always two sides to a story. However, data helps us to view our successes from all perspectives and prove our side of the story. I always advise people that if you cannot prove it using data, then it did not happen! Evidence is key to telling that story and data helps us to build on that evidence. This is particularly essential for your organization’s credibility and branding since your story is verifiable. Invest in data and you will not regret it, I promise. 

Not to know is bad, not to desire to know is worse (yet another African proverb).

Kez

Keziah Waweru is an experienced Regional Specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the international affairs industry. Skilled in Research, Nonprofit Organizations, International Relations, Capacity Building, and Strategic Planning. Strong support professional with a Master of Arts - MA focused in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution.

International Women's Day

International Womens Day Josh Drake

Every year I look forward to #internationalwomensday. Why? I can scroll my timeline and see an entire feed full of women lifting one another up. I feel lucky to say that the majority of women I follow do this on a regular basis. But it has me thinking. What are the longterm affects of social advocacy campaigns like this one?

1. Increased Awareness

We now have access to more information on our smart phones, than entire nations possessed throughout history. While this is an amazing thing, it poses a problem. How much is too much? When we hear statistics on child brides and sex trafficking and rape, it is easy to become numb. Numbers are numbers and facts are facts, but rarely does a singular piece of information move someone to action.

Social advocacy days like #Internationalwomensday are important because it creates an opportunity for us to share stories. It gives a natural platform for nonprofits and NGOs working in the field to highlight women and turn those facts and figures into real stories that we can relate to. It creates a movement that in turn creates change.

2. International Attention

Every continent, country and community is different. But you know what I noticed about today? Regardless of the country, everyone was posting about #internationalwomensday. When I went to bed last night and scrolled my timeline, I saw friends in Australia posting about the day. When I woke up, my UK friends had several great Instastories explaining the day to their daughters. And tonight when I fall asleep, my California friends will still be using the hashtag.

Rarely does one hashtag garner so much attention and support. The fact that the international conversation is focused one thing - women's empowerment - gives momentum and greater meaning to this advocacy campaign. 

3. Inspired Action

Lastly, I don't want to forget the women who came before us who made such a campaign a possibility. I had a friend share on her timeline a sign from a few decades ago that warned society about "feminists" and allowing women to have "rights." What would that time have been like? I'm proud of the fact that I have daughters who are brave and courageous and adventurous. They are free spirits who will change the world because they know they are loved and supported in all they do.

But all women don't enjoy this privilege. So the advocacy campaign continues. When we can reflect on the progress made in our communities, it spurs us to take action for other women who still are denied basic human rights. 

Thank you to all the nonprofits working hard to bring equality throughout the world. Thank you to the women who are risking their lives to make their communities safer for their daughters. Thank you for the women of the past who refused to stay silent. Your sacrifices are appreciated and together we will create inspired action. 

Stefani Zimmerman Drake

Stefani is a strategy consultant + speaker with over a decade of experience working in the US government, international NGO space and with nonprofits. Currently on the UNDP's Roster of Communication Experts in Subsaharan Africa + certified in Google Analytics, Stefani is an analytical thinker and thoughtful storyteller who works with nonprofits + humanitarians to define who they are, elevate their influence and broaden their impact through strategic communications, branding + advocacy. Stefani lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, twin girls and rescue dog.