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Fine-tune your figures

1 December 2017

From the amount of money supporters raised last year to the number of lives you’re turning around, your charity is awash with amazing stats. So why not make the most of them? Here are five practical tips you can use right now to make your stats stand out.


1. Get real

It’s hard to get emotional about abstract concepts. And, as any mathematician worth their salt will tell you, numbers can be as abstract as they come. So how can you encourage readers to make a connection with the figures you’re presenting? It’s all about creating the right context. Translating abstract figures into the stuff of everyday life makes them tangible, and therefore meaningful. Real-world equivalents are a great way to achieve this.


Source: Crisis


For example, say you’ve signed-up 16,000 people for your charity’s annual fun run. Very few readers will be able to picture what 16,000 runners look like. But what if you said “…that’s enough runners to fill the Royal Albert Hall twice”? By putting it in context, you’ve planted a vivid picture in their mind.

If the equivalent is something the audience really cares about rather than just a well-known landmark (whether that’s the capacity of a local youth club, or the number of people living in your county) so much the better.

Source: Macmillan Cancer Support


2. Use percentages…

Big percentages look great in headlines, infographics and social media posts because they convey maximum impact in minimum space. And the closer to 100% they come, the better the figure looks. After all, there’s a reason make-up ads throw around stats like 97% of women preferred it to their usual brand.

Source: MQ


Numbers expressed as percentages look and sound impressive, even if (take a look at the sample sizes used in those same ads sometime) the numbers involved are fairly small. For example, a thousand of your service-users downloading your new app might not sound like a big win. But what about “77% of service-users aged 18-25”?

3. …but don’t ignore fractions

Percentages are great – but use them too often and their impact soon wanes. So, if you find you’re rolling out percentage after percentage, try converting a few into fractions for variety. After all, three-quarters of users can sound just as strong as 75%.

Remember too that fractions like two-thirds of users can also be expressed as two out of three people which also reminds readers there are human beings behind those stats; they’re not just figures.

Source: Mencap

Source: Alzheimers Society   


4. Be consistent

The ‘figures’ section has got to be one of the most-consulted in any charity’s style guide – and with good reason. There’s a lot of decisions to be made about how you present numbers: from whether you use ‘m’ or spell out ‘millions’ to if ‘2,000’ needs a comma or not.

If you’ve already made these decisions in your charity, good. If not, the BBC or Guardian style guides can be a useful starting place. At a time when charities are more scrutinised than ever before, being consistent about numbers goes a long way to show your work (and finances) are credible. So take the time to proofread them separately, and make sure figures match up throughout your copy.

5. Create inspiring infographics

Numbers’ natural habitat is not body copy. While powerful figures add credibility, too many can halt the natural flow of what you’re trying to say. This is where compelling infographics pay dividends.

The right infographic sets figures free to be front and centre on their own. The best focus on one or two key figures and keep the copy light to give your stats the space to shine (but don’t forget a snappy headline).

For the best results, pass over to your designers, who’ll no doubt have some great ideas. It’s also worth trying out the free features on Canva, or even playing around with Google Charts if you have the time.

For examples of this, see WWF’s brilliant infographic on solar power, and get some inspiration at Information is Beautiful.

Now stand up and be counted

Effective charity comms is all about telling your organisation’s story. And while it’s worth remembering that words and images have a role to play, numbers can tell a powerful story all by themselves. So go and take another look at your organisation’s fact sheet (or create one if you haven’t already). Are all the figures working hard for you? If not, it’s time to whip them into shape, one stat at a time.


Image: CharityComms

Matt Chittock

copywriter, freelance

Matt Chittock is an experienced copywriter, journalist and proofreader working in the not-for-profit sector.