6 Online Map Makers Make Big Nonprofit Impact

6 Online Map Makers Make Big Nonprofit Impact post thumbnail image

Are you ready use an online map maker for your cause? Maps are a high-impact way to show off your nonprofit’s local ground game, surface your global impact, or motivate supporters with trending data.

Why Maps?

Image credit: MapCharts

The heat map of U.S. gas prices above visually lays out the scope of an issue that affects millions of people.

Beyond visualizing data, maps can also help your site visitors place your organization in its community. Not just where your building is, but where your impact occurs, where you work with clients and partners, where you serve communities.

So let’s start with that building. Showing that you exist on a street, in a neighborhood, inside a city builds credibility. Now people can imagine your workspace in a context that’s real to them. So now your presence is more real.

Of course, you can add to that map, telling your story faster than a paragraph can. For example, maybe you want to show places that you serve: schools, neighborhoods, cities, counties. The map below shows digital learning clusters in Sheffield, England.

Image credit: MapMe/Sheffield Digital Coalition

Got a cause that goes beyond local? Use a map to show how the data stacks up across counties, states, nations, and continents.

Image credit: MapCharts

Maps are snapshots of your impact. In an age where we are bombarded with data, our eyes race to visuals. Maps, infused with meaning and context, are valuable tools for building understanding.

6 Questions For Choosing An Online Map Maker

1. How sophisticated does it need to be? 

A simple map with pins and pop-ups is enough for most cases. But if you need more control over colors, pin styles, and text presentation, you may be willing to pay a license or subscription fee.

2. How many different maps do you need?

Map apps are a subscription game. But some tools will let you play for free, as long as you only need a few maps. 

3. How much are you willing to pay?

If a fancy map seems key to dramatizing your cause, expect to pay a monthly subscription ranging from $15 to $100 or more.

4. What’s your data like?

Do you need to show more than just locations and text pop-ups? Like presenting multiple data sets?  The more complexity you need to communicate, the more features you need.

5. What are your tech capabilities?

Simply manually loading your single data set and using the default options will be enough for most map projects.

But do you have tech-savvy staff or contractors who make magic happen with WordPress plug-ins, APIs, or coding? Then more sophisticated tools aimed at developers might be right for creating custom maps.

6. What are your graphics capabilities? 

Even though online map makers are meant to be DIY experiences, you’ll get better looking results if you’ve got someone with a design eye working on the project.

The Legend Has It

The legend, the information panel usually at the side or bottom of a map, is crucial for explaining the meaning of any map’s visual features. At its most basic, the legend uses short text and graphic combos.

Image Credit: MapChart

But with online map makers, the legend can be interactive. Labels can serve as filters for data, like with the Mapitive Filter Tool. In this case, you can filter data by country or region. 

Image credit: Maptive

6 Online Map Makers for Nonprofits

Google My MapsFree
Scribble MapsFirst five maps are free
Zee MapsFirst five maps are free, limited views
MapMeNonprofit discount
Google Maps Platform$250 in nonprofit credits per month

Free Online Map Makers

Google My Maps

Yes, Google seems to have a simple tool for everything, including maps. For example, with Google My Maps, you can create a custom map in the familiar Google Maps format.

The maps consist of layers. You can choose from several base layer styles. The base layer is the standard map you would get from a Google search.

Once you’ve settled on your base layer, you can add pins or other graphics and create pop-ups with text. 

You can easily add contact info and descriptions, along with an image. The following example is a mock-up I made featuring a real local nonprofit.

This page has some sample maps you can grab as templates to get started: https://sites.google.com/site/mymapssamples/


The good news is MapChart is free. And if you’re looking to map something at a national or international level, this is a great tool.

You can take maps of regions or countries and subdivide them into units as small as counties or U.S. congressional districts. This map showing U.S. incarceration rates by state is a good example.

Image credit: MapCharts

The First 5 Are Free

Scribble Maps and Zee Maps offer five free maps, but with some limitations.

Scribble Maps lets you create 5 free maps on Google Maps layers. You can add your own shapes, lines, colors, markers, labels. 

More expensive subscription options add advanced features like analytics, unlimited maps, heat maps, and overlays. 

A simple Scribble Maps example

Zee Maps gives you five free maps but allows only 100 views. So after that, you can pay between $19.95 and $99.95 per month depending on what features you need, including larger data capacity and allowing more users to access the map-making app.

This sample map of American monsters, featuring pop-ups celebrating creatures like the Chupacabra, is a colorful example of how Google Maps layers can be styled and augmented.

Image credit: Zee Maps

Get a Nonprofit Discount

These two online map-making apps give you the next best things to free, discounts and credits.

MapMe gives an unspecified nonprofit discount. The regular subscription price is $24.99 per month. You have to apply for the mystery amount discount. 

Be Well Arkansas used MapMe to create a map that shows where residents can get health care services. Users can select the categories on the map legend.

Image credit: MapMe/Be Well Arkansas

Then, they can get contact information by selecting the markers.

Image credit: MapMe/Be Well Arkansas

Nonprofits can get a $250 monthly credit from the Google Maps Platform. Expect some tech work with APIs to get the most out of this powerful solution which can integrate Google Earth images and even YouTube to create virtual tours.  

The California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society use the Google Maps Platform for their data-driven iNaturalist project. The maps allow users to view data collected from millions of crowdsourced wildlife observations.

Image credit: iNaturalist

The Direction Is Clear

With so much capacity at your fingertips, map projects make a lot of sense. Maps deliver information quickly, and interactive features can ignite curiosity, drawing the audience deeper into your cause. 

There are map-making apps for any size organization, from tiny shoestring nonprofits to global operations overflowing with data.

If “there are those who follow maps and those who make them,” then why not take the lead and create interest-piquing maps to reach your followers? 

Find more insight now at the Alphabet Soup newsletter.

Get help with your nonprofit content issues at michaeljcontent.com/about/

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