Tech in the Commons: A Toolkit for Place-Based Nonprofits
Share stats with these free Google tools.
An introduction to Analytics, Public Data Explorer, Trends and Maps for data visualization.

DO THIS FIRST:

  1. Ask yourself, How much data do I currently have on my organization’s audience? What do I wish I had? Can these tools help me get it?
  2. Look at how likeminded nonprofits use data. Scour their year-end reports and social media presence for some cool examples of data visualization. See anything that’s inspiring?
  3. Pick one of the below tools and use it. Simple as that. You can make it public or not — the point here is to just roll up your sleeves and get to work.

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National news outlets are used to using Google’s free data visualization tools. Take Quartz’s tracking of searches for “dad bod” and the Washington Post’s creation of a “daily misery index” as examples. But smaller, mission-minded organizations can use Google’s tools to further their own community engagement strategies, too.

Why? Because at their best, these tools can tell a compelling story about your organization’s impact that motivates your audience (donors, board members, etc.) to take action and support your mission.

How? Nicholas Whitaker, a training and development manager at Google who previously worked as a media producer focusing on nonprofits and advocacy groups, shared some tips.

Google Analytics

To Whitaker, asking “Why should people care about analytics?” is akin to asking “Why should I care about my audience?”

The first step is for nonprofits to ask their communities what value you can add “so that you’re really crafting content that’s specific to their needs and being tactical in addressing the core needs of your audience,” he said.

Are most of your website’s visitors coming from desktop, smartphone, Safari, Chrome? Are they visiting in the morning, afternoon, 3 a.m.? Are they based in Center City or far-flung suburbs? Find out with Google Analytics and optimize your site accordingly.

Learn the platform via its training program, Analytics Academy.

Google Public Data Explorer

Need some proof? Public Data Explorer collects sets of data from reputable providers like the U.S. Census Bureau and the World Trade Organization and allows users to embed the resulting graphs into their own media.

Most of the info currently on the explorer is policy-driven and related to economics, so if your nonprofit works in human services, you can search, say, mean income of U.S. households according to race and make a graph describing your community’s needs.

Whitaker said it’s on the data providers to make sure their data sets are accurate and up-to-date, so be sure to double-check your sources. You can upload your own data, too, and either keep it secure or make it public.

Here’s a tutorial on how to use the Public Data Explorer.

Google Trends

Google Trends allows users to track what topics are trending in different countries and according to subject. Search according to any keyword in the “Explore topics” bar up top and find out what cities are searching for those topics most. (For instance, at the time of this writing, Philly searched the second-most of all U.S. cities for “opioids.”)

This tool is useful for figuring out what language to use in your headlines of, say, blog posts you write for your nonprofit. That’s because you want to use the same words and phrases that others are most commonly looking for — do more people search for opioids generally or Oxycontin specifically? You can also get autogenerated graphics like bar charts to embed on your site.

Here’s the Google help page for Trends.

Google Maps

“The core question of any story is where did it happen,” Whitaker said. Accordingly, Google Maps allows you to graphically reference the data relative to your work.

Are you a health care operator looking to show off your many locations? Want to make it known where the headquarters of all of Philly’s largest funders are? This tool can help you make customizable and shareable maps.

Here’s the Maps how-to.

Other data visualization resources

Connect with Nicholas Whitaker for further advice on using these Google tools at nwhitaker@google.com.

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