Data visualization tools to help nonprofits tell a story

Center for New Leadership - January 25, 2017 - 1:13pm
By Bob Lawson, Founder, Sustainable Digital

Data can be powerful stuff. Properly analyzed, it can help you understand the world around you in new ways. And when properly presented, data helps you tell your story, be it to donors, foundations or other supporters of your nonprofit.

Unfortunately, data isn’t easy.  Data on its own is first and foremost difficult for most people to interpret. And second, it’s boring.

This is why it is so important to get beyond numbers to help others understand your data in non-numeric ways so they can easily grasp its meaning and implications.

Fortunately, there are a number of software tools that help you do just this and most are free to nonprofit organizations. Let’s start with some of the more obvious tools and work our way to one with which you may not yet be familiar.


Microsoft Excel

Part of the MS Office suite of products, Excel is that software with those boring columns of data in spreadsheets. What is less well known are the powerful built-in tools to help you turn your data into colorful pie charts and line graphs. Until recently creating even a simple chart was frustrating, at best, with Excel. Fortunately, Microsoft has improved things considerably in recent versions of the software, allowing you to easily customize many parts of each graph or chart.

Even someone like me, who has long disliked Microsoft products, must admit that Excel’s charts and graphs are now easy to use. And more often than not, Excel is already sitting on our computer. If it is not, it is available for free or at a very low cost to nonprofits (for more information, see


My Maps from Google

This online software is different than the usual Google Maps, although it obviously springs from the same technology.  My Maps allows you to upload a spreadsheet that contains both data and geographic information, such as street, town, state, and country names. Google takes each address and geocodes it, placing a pin on a map.

Pins can be color-coded in different ways and all data related to that geographical location becomes visible when the user clicks on that pin.

This service is completely browser-based, with nothing to install on your computer. Maps can be shared via email or embedded on a website. And as with a good many things from Google, My Maps is available for use at no charge.

For more information, see:


Tableau Public

Tableau Public helps you create interactive maps, charts and graphs that make data more meaningful.  Using some relatively simple controls, you can create some complex visualizations.

The controls are indeed simple, but there are quite a lot of them and they can be used in many combinations. So it is a good thing that Tableau has produced a series of 18 videos to help you get started at Yes, this is a lot of videos, but don’t get scared. It’s complex, but it’s simple at the same time.  And in all cases, the results are on a completely different level than what you can achieve with My Maps or Excel.

Obviously, professional statisticians and M&E specialists will have an advantage using Tableau, but the rest of us mortals can do surprisingly well.  You can start with various data sources, but normally you’d begin with an Excel file or Google Sheet. Import the file to Tableau and the fun starts.

One nice feature is that when you share or publish your results online, the interactivity is maintained, enabling the user to apply filters and control the way data is displayed in various ways.

Fact is that words don’t easily explain all you can do with Tableau.  Best to have a quick look at the videos, above. Seeing is believing.

 Tableau Public is a downloadable desktop app that runs either on Windows of Mac iOS. Resulting data presentations are viewed in a web browser.

Tableau Public is available at no charge.  The features available in this free version are generous.  The one possible catch is that the data visualizations you publish are automatically available to the general public. So this is not a good option for internal organizational data or other things you are not ready to make public. Other, more powerful, versions are available starting at almost $1000 per user, but there is a 2-year free license available to most nonprofits with budgets below $5 million a year. More info at:

More information about Tableau can be found at



Bob Lawson is the founder of Sustainable Digital (, based in Putney, Vermont. The firm offers technology training and audits for nonprofits and international NGOs. More information can be found at:

Library Hours Over Thanksgiving & The ILL book request deadline

Library Blog - November 21, 2016 - 11:54am

While the Library building will remain open during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Service Desk will have reduced hours.

Governor LeRoy Collins pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey in Tallahassee, Florida. 1957. State Library and Archives of Florida.

The Service Desk will close at 11:00pm on Wednesday, November 23rd. Please plan in advance if you’d like to borrow reserves, DVDs, equipment, or pick up holds or ILLs before break!

The Service Desk, Reserve/AV Room, and Plan Room will reopen at 6:30pm on Sunday, November 28th. Regular hours will resume at that time.

The last day to request books or A/V materials via Interlibrary Loan this semester is Monday, December 1st. (You can keep requesting articles.)

Remember that even when you’re away from the library, you still have access to over 125,000 academic ebooks, 40,000 online journals, and dozens of research databases, all searchable from one place! When you use library resources off campus, if you’re prompted to log in, just use your Marlboro username and password.

Have a wonderful break!

Congratulations ALIGN 2016

Center for New Leadership - November 7, 2016 - 1:41pm
A big congratulation is due to the 9 emerging leaders who completed the 10-week ALIGN program.  ALIGN prepares leaders for a sustainable, high-impact career in the mission-driven sector by helping them clarify personal purpose, develop practices to support work/life integration, form a supportive community of practice, and better align their work with their strengths and passions. How well did we do it?
  • 100% of participants highly recommend the program to others
  • 100% rated ALIGN overall and the trainer as “outstanding”
Is anyone better off?
  • 100% agreed “ALIGN will help strengthen the impact of my work in the world”
  • 100% built their leadership skills, 67% “by a tremendous amount”
  • 100% agreed “In ALIGN I experienced meaningful support from a trusted circle of peers”
  • 100% agreed they will use what they learned

Marlboro at B Corps Retreat

Center for New Leadership - November 7, 2016 - 11:40am

A benefit corporation (B Corp) is a business that includes positive impact on society, workers, the community and the environment in addition to profit as its legally defined goals.

For 9 years, B Corps from around the world have gathered at an annual retreat to build community and set goals for advancing the movement of People Using Business as a Force for Good™. On October 20th, 500 members of the B Corp community gathered for the B Inspired conference in Philadelphia. The theme of the gathering was: Towards an Inclusive Economy.

Four attendees are part of the Marlboro community. We got in touch with each of them to capture their biggest takeaways.

Travis Hellstrom: Advisor for Social Innovation concentration at Marlboro, core CNL consultant. Travis has been part of this movement for six years. At this year’s conference he was representing three different B Corps. 

  • Evolving focus of BLab. Over 40 states and some countries have passed B Corps legislation, and as a result the focus of the conference has shifted. Travis says, “[The focus] is becoming ‘be like a B Corp.’ That’s something all companies can do, regardless of whether or not they can become certified. I think for the founders [of the B Corps movement] that is becoming a strong motivation. To use business as a force for good worldwide it can’t just be 2,000 or 20,000 B Corps. There are over 200 million businesses in America. With so many businesses they are encouraging all companies to use the impact assessment.”
  • Giving more power to B Corps. “I helped lead a session on leadership and coaching. We used the ‘unconference model,’ in which you ask people to facilitate a session with a general topic but allow the learning to take place within the group. I framed some questions and activities, but in general the groups were teaching each other about best practices, advice around coaching and leadership, principles they stand by, resource sharing and reporting it out. I think the model worked really well.

Julie Fahnestock: Marlboro MBA Alumni and Founder of BStorytelling This was Julie’s first year at the retreat, but she was in good company. About 80% of attendees were newcomers.

  • The BLab challenge. Julie shared that, For the first time ever, BLab has set a goal for the community. Over the next 12 months, they are challenging B Corps to set goals and improve on three or more inclusion metrics. We had a breakout session on ‘what is it going to take?’ We mapped the challenges and solutions. The resounding theme was that this has to be heart change; it can’t just be tactical or incentive-based. You can build best practices, you can write a statement, but that doesn’t get people to want inclusion and want work with each other. They need to see the value, to do the work to constantly recognize and check personal biases. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. It’s a human issue. It’s been a fear of companies to share these challenges. They feel they should have it figured out, and that to admit they don’t is to take a risk. We want to get past the shame, looking at this as a journey.”

Kerry Secrest: Director of the Vermont Women’s Leadership Circles at Marlboro, core CNL consultant, and owner of Watershed Coaching, a Certified B Corp consulting practice. Kerry presented at this year’s conference.

  • Inclusion and Diversity. Kerry says, “I’m excited that inclusion and diversity is being recognized as an integral conversation for business rather than an add-on.”
  • Creative networking. Retreat attendees were encouraged to get to know each other through shared activities and work. Kerry took part in a session that involved real learning about water runoff and management in cities like Philadelphia. She said, “I appreciated getting to do things like that. It was an amazing way to meet people, participate, and talk in an informal way. It was much more meaningful than standing around drinking coffee together. We actually got to help.”
  • Finding a tribe. “It was inspiring to be around like-minded people where I didn’t feel the need to prove myself, where there was an understanding of shared values. There was a great feeling of being with your tribe.”

Stacy Metzger: Marlboro MBA Alumni and General Manager at PV Squared Solar

  • Bringing back the lessons. Stacy left feeling inspired and excited to “return to PV Squared Solar with ideas for fostering more inclusion both in terms of our culture and the talent we seek, as well as in the work we do and our product offerings. The first step will be for us to do some hard work to understand our biases and our blind spots, so that we can open ourselves to change and welcome more people with broader backgrounds to the team.”

Help Us Select Items for the David Pierce Fund

Library Blog - November 1, 2016 - 3:28pm

David Pierce, a Marlboro College student whose tragic death in 2003 deeply impacted our community, is remembered each Fall. Many on campus still have fond memories of David, and a bench and apple tree outside of the Library commemorate his life and time at Marlboro. Additionally, David’s family established a fund for the Library to purchase items that are not necessarily for academic purposes, but rather for fun. Think graphic novels, current popular fiction, movies, TV series, etc. Each year, the Library buys a few more items using the fund established in his memory.

This year, we are asking for your help in choosing what to buy!

Between now and midnight on Friday, 11/4, email (or call, or stop by, or comment below…) with the titles of any movies, books, graphic novels, or other items you’d like the Library to add. Remember: fun, not work (though the two aren’t always mutually exclusive!).

We’ll make a list of all your suggestions, then put them to a vote. Students will be emailed a link to a survey; voting will be open through the end of the day on Wednesday, November 9th. When voting is over, we’ll rank the selections, start buying with the top vote-getter, and continue down the list as far as we can.

In the meantime, stop by the Library to see some of the items that have been bought with David’s fund in past years. They’re currently on display on the ground floor, across from the Service Desk.