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What’s the difference between data and information?

Posted by on June 6th, 2018
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Messaging, Storytelling    Tags: , , ,

The other day, Jennie and I received a letter from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The letter requested that we help with the 2017 Economic Census by participating in a survey. And it included this fun fact:

“We estimate this survey will take on average between 42 minutes and 5 hours 36 minutes to complete.”

This sparked a couple of thoughts for us.

  1. The letter is weirdly specific with the amount of time the survey could take.
  2. The phrases “we estimate” and “on average” usually aren’t used in association with such oddly specific data.

This prompted us to think about a challenge many of our nonprofit clients face. You may have access to lots of data about your organization. But just because you have a data point, should you share it?

The fundamental difference between data and information is context. Data is a measurement, but if you don’t contextualize that information by sharing why it’s important, why the reader should care, and what the benefit is to the reader, you haven’t yet translated that data into information.

For instance, the nice people at the U.S. Census Bureau could contextualize their data by saying, “We estimate that this survey will take anywhere from 45 minutes to 5 hours to complete depending on the size of your business, so please plan your time accordingly. It’s worth it, though, because this information helps your community develop economic models and plan for the future.”

So take a moment and look at the numbers you’re sharing with your community. Are you just sharing data, or are you communicating information?

More resources for telling your stories:

Are Simple Messages Dumber?

Tell a Story with Numbers: The Power of Infographics


Zach Hochstadt is a Mission Minded Founding Partner and runs Mission Minded’s Denver office, leading the company’s creative teams in the areas of message development, writing, graphic design, and web design and development.

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