Tools of the Trade

Visual communication doesn’t have to be expensive! These are a few of my favorite - and most affordable - dataviz tools.

Tools with names in bold are ones that I use regularly. The rest I’ve seen in action and have heard great things about their usability.

Static Visualizations & Design

For use in printed publications or online

Data wrangling

  • Microsoft Excel – This one isn’t technically free (or cheap), but most organizations already have it.
  • Google Sheets – Free alternative to Excel.
  • Python – Programming language used more by industry, has great data analysis and dataviz packages.
  • R – Programming language used more by academia, very analysis and statistics-oriented, has good dataviz packages.

Graphic design

  • Gimp – Free alternative to Photoshop (Windows only).
  • Pixlr Editor – Free alternative to Photoshop (web-based).
  • Affinity Photo – Reasonably-priced alternative to Photoshop.
  • Inkscape – Free alternative to Illustrator.
  • Affinity Designer – Reasonably-priced alternative to Illustrator.
  • Adobe Creative Suite – Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop can be used to create and modify dataviz. Adobe offers discounts for nonprofits online and through TechSoup.

Interactive Data Visualizations

Online-only, featuring animation and interactivity

For programmers

  • D3.js – JavaScript library, considered one of the industry standards for online interactive dataviz.
  • DC.js – DC is a JavaScript convenience library for D3 to help you code interactive dashboards more easily.
  • Google Charts – Google’s dataviz package has a wide range of chart types but is geared for programmers.


  • Tableau Public – Tableau’s free product. All data and visualizations done on the free account must be publicly visible (no private data).
  • – Drag-and-drop chart creation for website embeds. Builds both solo and multi-chart creations.
  • Datawrapper – Quick and simple web-based visualization creator, but offers limited chart options.
  • ChartBlocks – Online tool for designing embeddable interactive data visualizations, has both free and paid plans.
  • LOOPY – You draw lines and circles with your mouse, it creates animated schematics and org charts.

Other Interactive Visualizations

Numerical data isn't the only way to tell a story!

Map-based tools

  • Knight Lab StoryMapJS – StoryMapJS guides users through a spatial story. You choose the stops and add pics/video, it does the rest. [read my review]
  • Odyssey – Like StoryMap, combines maps and multimedia for a guided tour – and no need for code!
  • Google My Maps – Create an embeddable map with points and areas of interest. All maps must be associated with a Google account.
  • Google Earth Pro – Build guided tours and narrated maps from spreadsheet files and GIS data. Free for nonprofits with code GEPFREE.
  • MapBox – Open-source alternative to Google products. Extremely customizable, but you’ll want to have some GIS / code experience.

Other storytelling tools

  • Knight Lab TimelineJS – If you can work Google Sheets and follow directions, you too can embed a responsive multimedia timeline on your site. [read my review]
  • Knight Lab JuxtaposeJS – JuxtaposeJS overlays two images with a slider to transition back and forth. Great for before-and-after comparisons.


Slick visuals ideal for social sharing

  • Canva – Drag-and-drop graphic design with templates for social media. The dataviz is a little weak, but it certainly has style.
  • Piktochart – Some features are free; more advanced features require a modest annual fee (nonprofit discount available).

Book Learnin'

Educational resources, online and off

  • Brandraising – by Sarah Durham, covers the ins and outs of building a cohesive identity for your nonprofit.
  • Creative Class – by Paul Jarvis, basically an online Freelancing 101 course that helped get Hypsypops off the ground (affiliate link).

Business Tools

Other stuff I use, in case you were wondering

  • Asana – Project management app, free for up to 15 users.
  • Toggl – Flexible time tracker with browser extensions.
  • Teamweek – Visual task planner, I use it for workplanning and tracking client bookings.
  • ConvertKit – Email newsletter service, great for offering downloads with sign-ups (affiliate link).
  • Wave Accounting – Nearly-free invoicing, payment processing, and expense tracking.
  • Hootsuite – Social media manager, lessens the chaos of your Twitter feed.
  • Crowdfire – AI-assisted Twitter tool to help with audience growth.
  • RecurPost – Automated Twitter scheduling, because Twitter is my frenemy.
  • FlyWheel – Fast and friendly web hosting for WordPress (affiliate link).

Master list of tools I use for nonprofit infographics and design.