Last week we talked about how Charts can be a powerful addition to grant narratives and other proposal elements. Here are 8 tips to keep in mind as you format your charts.

  1. Don’t use 3-D effects, exploding pie charts, or other whiz-bang options. This just gets in the way of your point and visually clutters the graphic.
  2. Use the title of the chart to identify the variables shown in the chart. This can be general (Pie Contest Participants Eating more Each Year) or specific (Mean Participant Slice Consumption per Pie Eating Contest, 2002-2009).
  3. Use the title of the chart to reinforce the conclusion you are showing with the data; for instance, “Child Hunger Rises as Economy Dips.” The exception to this would be if you are writing to a funder that emphasizes objectivity (academic or scientific sources), in which case simply describe the data shown, “Child Hunger Rates and GDP,” with a level of precision and formality similar to the funder’s own materials.
  4. Match the typefaces in charts with those in the document. Same with colors when used in text. Also, make type sizes consistent across charts.
  5. Beware of using color charts unless you know reviewers will be provided with proposals in color. When in doubt use grayscale or black and white patterns.
  6. Microsoft Office software (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) often defaults to position a chart legend to the right of plot area—but this is usually the most space-wasting placement. Move the legend to a position along the bottom or in a box floating over a blank part of the chart area.
  7. Make sure axis titles describe what the measure is and what unit is used, for instance “Annual Mortality (per capita).” Scale the axes as needed so you don’t waste space on area that doesn’t contain data.
  8. If used, gridlines should not overshadow the data (make the units are relatively large and consider using a light gray for gridline color).

All too commonly, people use charts to manipulate data or make poor quality data appear more legitimate. Grant reviewers are hip to this trick, so be sure to:

  • Use quality data,
  • Clearly show your sources and data parameters,
  • Avoid altering scales just to exaggerate or downplay the effects shown, and
  • Resist jumping to conclusions about one variable causing change to another just because they move in synch (correlation does not prove causation—otherwise we might conclude that eating soup causes the flu simply because these both rise during the cold months).

P.S. Creating the perfect chart is much like creating a perfect pie. Both take planning and practice. We hope that this article has provided some of the essential ingredients you need to make your charts powerfully compelling…like a fresh baked pie sitting on a windowsill.

Most nonprofits struggle with getting grants and they’re tired of chasing money. It shouldn’t be this hard. So we created a process that helps them find funding, get grants, and connect to a network. This gives their organizations the money they need to make our communities strong.