Using Your Association’s Data to Tell a Story: 4 Steps

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Kerry McCreadie

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When you think about data, what comes to mind? Excel spreadsheets with rows upon rows of numbers that are hard to decipher? Pie charts, graphs and other types that just share those numbers in different ways? Whatever image is in your head, it’s probably very number focused.

Data doesn’t have to be so stoic and mathematical. Data is an extremely powerful tool that can help tell a story. It gives you the power to identify trends or to explain a phenomenon. As an association leader, you can use your organization’s data to tell a story about where you’ve been and where you’re planning to go

In this guide, we’ll explore how you can use the data stored in your association’s constituent relationship management system (CRM) and other sources to tell your story to the wider world. Let’s get started. 

1. Identify Central Data Points

What kind of story do you want to tell? 

Do you want to paint a picture of how your organization has grown and changed throughout the year as part of your annual report? Or are you trying to consolidate event-related data to show sponsors how they can benefit from supporting your upcoming event?

Once you’ve got an idea of what you’re hoping to accomplish with your data storytelling, you can start parsing through your data to find specific insights. 

Use your membership database or information from member needs assessments to assess information such as members’:

  • Join dates: Dates can reveal trends in new membership, like if certain months are more popular than others for new members to join. 
  • Professions: Employment jobs of members can reveal whether members work in similar sectors or companies. This info can also help you plan continual education programs, too. 
  • Demographics: Information such as age, race, location and gender can show you what your membership base looks like and how it’s changed over time. 

Analyze this data to pinpoint trends, patterns and outliers. This data gives you a solid starting point to start building your narrative. 

2. Create a Narrative Arc

When we talk about storytelling, we’re being literal; your data story should have all the same elements that every good story includes, from Les Miserables to Harry Potter. 

Basic plot elements include: 

  • Introduction
  • Rising action
  • Climax
  • Falling action
  • Resolution

Perhaps you’re sharing a story about the effectiveness of your virtual meetings throughout the previous year. Your main character might be one of your association’s chapter leaders who faced the issue of low meeting attendance. 

Set the scene by introducing the chapter leader and describing their historic approach to hosting virtual meetings. Then, you can generate some rising action by describing how the chapter leader noticed that fewer and fewer attendees were joining the meeting each week.

For the climax, you describe how the chapter leader decided to switch the virtual meeting time to Wednesdays instead of Mondays which led to a 70% increase in attendance. (Enter: data!) The resolution might involve your organization adopting this change on a national level, leading to more satisfied members from coast to coast. 

Include quotes from both the chapter leader and the members themselves to highlight the positive impact this data-driven change had. 

Combining hard data with anecdotal evidence gives audience members the full context they need to understand how your association tackles problems effectively. Plus, it helps them see the story in their mind. 

3. Consider Your Audience

With in depth audience knowledge in hand, you can craft your story to resonate specifically with your target audience and make sure you’re sharing stories that matter to them.

So, who are you trying to reach with your story? 

Audience groups could be:

Once you’ve got an idea of who you’re talking to, you can choose the right data points and format to reach this audience effectively. For instance, potential sponsors will be curious to see information such as your event attendance numbers, while prospective members want to see how your association works to help tangibly advance members’ careers. 

4. Present Your Findings Clearly

The final step of the process is to create your story. When presenting your findings and writing your narrative, keep the following tips in mind: 

  • Don’t gloss over negative trends; Do highlight problem solving techniques.
  • Don’t include misleading information; Do share interesting information.
  • Don’t use overly complicated explanations, charts, or jargon; Do connect with your audience in language that works for them.

Complicated stories are not enjoyable to read. Being open, transparent, clear and concise is the best way to connect with your audience. Members, sponsors, and other stakeholders will value and respect this transparency and your commitment to problem solving. After all, that’s what data is all about. 

Weave data throughout the narrative and incorporate visual cues like graphs, charts and numbers wherever they can highlight parts of your story. 

Data: The Ultimate Storytelling Tool

Your association collects data constantly from sources such as your membership database, member surveys and social media analytics. Combining data with storytelling strategies will help you communicate with members in an interesting and consumable way.


This article was written by Kerry McCreadie – MemberClicks, Senior Content Marketing Manager as part of our partnership with MemberClicks

What matters most to membership organizations? As the Senior Content Marketing Manager for Personify’s Wild Apricot and MemberClicks products, this is the question always on Kerry’s mind. Their goal is to help nonprofits, associations, and clubs discover the solutions that solve their most frustrating pain points—while growing and retaining their member base. The CEO and Founder of their own nonprofit organization, Kerry is passionate about nonprofit and charitable work—especially in the arts.

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