How nonprofits design their data reports

Designers from nonprofits like Human Rights Campaign, Pencils of Promise, and, share how they use graphics and typography to build award-winning reports.

Reports can be fun and engaging—and nonprofits are here to prove it.

Sure, it’s tough to capture people’s attention with data sets, financial records, and survey results. But it’s a necessary task for nonprofits, which have to remain transparent to donors about their funds and progress.

That’s why nonprofits rely on design to build the most visually enticing and intuitive reports possible. Many have learned that with the right typography, color palettes, and graphics, they can break up information in a way that’s easy to digest and—dare we say it—enjoyable to read.

Here’s an in-depth look at how four nonprofits expertly design their reports.

1. Human Rights Campaign

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) doesn’t just garner support for LGBTQ communities and start movements to battle relevant issues. The nonprofit also conducts its own research. This is part of its Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF) branch, which works to “increase understanding and encourage the adoption of LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices.”

In an effort to educate people about LGBTQ issues, the foundation produces a number of reports, including the Healthcare Equality Index, Corporate Equality Index, and Municipal Equality Index. They look at how favorable conditions are to LGBTQ community members in each sector.

In the Corporate Equality Index, for example, the HRC looked at the hiring practices of Fortune 500 companies, and ranked them by how LGBTQ-friendly they are.

“We recognized early on that corporate America was much further ahead of political America,” said Robert Villaflor, Senior Design Director for the HRC. “They understood that in order to hire the best and the brightest, it was within their interest to adopt these strong, LGBTQ-friendly workplaces.”

Still, the challenge was figuring out how to convey all of this information in an engaging way.

That’s where design came in. Villaflor and his team uses graphics, crisp typography, and pops of color to improve the readability of these reports.

“The reports are so data-heavy,” Villaflor said. “And our foundation really understood the value of design and started working closely with my team to have them be more accessible and user-friendly.”

The Human Rights Campaign's team of designers use graphics and typography with bright colors to improve their reports' readability

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In fact, the reports are so well-crafted that they’ve garnered design awards. For its 2016 Annual Report, the HRC worked with a D.C.-based design team called Design Army. And the report was a D&AD Annual Reports Graphite Pencil Awards Winner.

“Annual reports are a forgettable item that rarely grabs the attention of donors,” Design Army wrote. “We used one color, custom typography and pacing to create impact and present the data in as direct a way as possible—compelling the HRC’s 1.5 million members to join the fight for equal rights.”

The HRC 2016 Annual Report shows the fight for equal rights and fundamental dignity that all LGBTQ people deserve

This type of success also helps the HRC’s designers garner support from leadership teams and executives.

“At nonprofits, budgets are limited, and it costs money and time to enter these competitions, and there are no guarantees,” Villaflor said. “And when they see our annual report in the same competition as Vanity Fair and TIME and these other big commercial publications, it’s easy for them to connect the value and get behind it.”

2. is a nonprofit that empowers young people across the globe to get involved in something bigger than themselves—both online and off—and drive positive change. While they create social graphics to reach young participants, the nonprofit builds Quarterly Dashboards for older audiences of partners and donors who want to stay up to date on the nonprofit’s progress and impact.

“We are constantly building content for specific demographics,” said Keri Goff, Creative Director at “We know that young people don’t consume content the way old people do (and don’t get offended—anyone over 25 is considered an old person at DoSomething).”

The biannual dashboards for 2017 include everything from campaign overviews and corporate partners to select campaign participants and new team members.

The biannual dashboards for 2017 include everything from campaign overviews and corporate partners to select campaign participants and new team members

“When we design for ‘old people,’ we know we have more time with their attention spans before they decide to move on to something else,” Goff said. “Content we tend to create for this audience can vary between bi-annual dashboards reviewing all of our accomplishments, advisory board documents, and events such as our annual gala or summit.”

This content takes longer to consume, but it still holds readers’ attention with a strong color palette, original photography, and an intuitive layout.

3. Pencils of Promise

Last year, Pencils of Promise launched its live Impact Data Hub, using engaging design to share the latest data and results from its programs. As the title suggests, the purpose of this dashboard is to pull back the curtain on the organization and be completely transparent about their progress in building schools and providing quality education to children around the world.

Still, it can be difficult to digest data about a nonprofit’s impact, community, staff, and financials. That’s why Pencils of Promise uses graphics and data visualization techniques to make its metrics approachable and easy to understand.

Pencils of Promise makes its presentations approachable and easy to understand by using graphics and data visualization techniques

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Pencils of Promise also promotes its transparency efforts on social media with custom graphics. Take this Instagram graphic. It shows how readers can easily access the report on their mobile devices.

Pencils of Promise maxmize their social media accounts to let people know how they can access their quarterly transparency reports

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4. Goldhirsh Foundation

It’s one thing to say you’ll make your city a better place to learn, create, play, connect, and live. It’s another to continuously track progress towards those goals, and develop original research and reporting to keep your community updated along the way.

That’s what Goldhirsh Foundation does with its LA2050 reports. These reports are meant to measure the quality of life in LA and analyze the work of LA2050 grantees as they help improve issues in the city.

The LA2050 reports of the Goldhirsh Foundation helps measure the quality of life in LA and analyze the work of the grantees

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“Reports are my favorite thing to work on,” said Megan Park, Social Innovation and Design Coordinator for the Goldhirsh Foundation. “But we understand that a lot of the information we collect and want to share tends to be dense. Unless they are totally bought in, people won’t really respond to a PDF or report format.”

LA2050 has used a couple of key strategies to keep readers interested.

The first is data visualization.

“We make sure that the bigger numbers or stats are accompanied with a simple graphic,” Park said.

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“At the end of the day, we’re really an initiative about civic engagement – having people understand and be curious about their city and the state of other Angelenos who live here,” Park said. “So as we’re moving the barriers of civic engagement as often as possible, we’re trying to make sure that we’re empowering people with relevant stats and information that might help promote or at least ignite some civic action within our followers.”

Once the reports are completed, the Goldhirsh Foundation then needs to get them in front of an audience. Sure, people can check them out if they visit the site and peruse the “Reports” tab. But what about those people who don’t know about LA2050 yet or aren’t aware of their original research?

That’s where the second strategy comes in: slicing up content to distribute on social media.

“We’re an organization that leans so heavily on the reports that we do,” Park said. “Yes, a multi-page report is the home for all of the content and the research we collect. But it’s really through sharing that content across multiple channels that we feel like our reporting is able to engage.”

Specifically, Park will pick out the most interesting and relevant stats, and create original graphics around them for social media. Her team then uses Buffer and Hootsuite to schedule each social post. This helps them extend the lifetime of their reports and boost their regularly scheduled social content in the process.

“We use these stats as evergreen content,” Park said. “There are going to be days when our team is busy and we are not necessarily sharing new content. So we’ve used these two platforms to schedule posts from the report every few days or weeks. It’s always in the back of our heads and on top of our regular content.”

This Twitter graphic, for instance, was pulled from the LA2050 Vision for a Successful Los Angeles report.

Snippets from their reports become material for social media posts as part of Goldhirsh Foundation's distribution strategy

This distribution strategy even helps Park while she’s designing the reports.

“It’s been really nice to have this social media arm as I’m creating the content,” she said. “The more visually compelling each section can be, the easier it is for us to repurpose that for a different social media platform. So it’s been a lot for us to learn in what ways can we be as concise and as succinct as possible.”

She added, “Especially for nonprofits that have to create impact reports every year to continue to fundraise and seek out philanthropic funders, this is just another way to prove that, ‘Hey, we’re an organization that can communicate the work we’re doing and tell stories more thoughtfully.’”

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