How to use these free Google tools to tell your nonprofit's story with data - Generocity Philly


May 26, 2017 9:54 am

How to use these free Google tools to tell your nonprofit’s story with data

An introduction to Analytics, Public Data Explorer, Trends and Maps for data visualization.

Google's Nicholas Whitaker presenting at Tech in the Commons.

(Photo via

Tech in the Commons is supported by the Knight Foundation and organized by Generocity.
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 — say, place-based nonprofits located in Philadelphia — can use Google’s tools to further their own community engagement strategies, too.

Nicholas Whitaker, a training and development manager at Google who previously worked as a media producer focusing on nonprofits, advocacy groups and small businesses along the Mid-Atlantic, visited Generocity’s second Tech in the Commons bootcamp to share how.

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.

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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, Philly searches the seventh-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, of course, 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? It also helps to 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.

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