Writing Better Personal Profiles for Your Newsletter

Including personal profiles in your newsletter is great way to tell an important story about your organization, while also recognizing the contributions of a single person. I write a lot of donor profiles, for example, that tell nice stories about the individuals and acknowledge their generosity, while highlighting the organization’s accomplishments — i.e. “Jane Donor made The Nonprofit the sole beneficiary of her estate because we did Some Great Thing.”

Here are five tips for writing a better personal profile:

1) Ask open-ended questions. Whether you interview the person on email, over the phone, or in person, ask lots of open-ended questions that are impossible to answer in one or two words. You want to generate answers that you can work with and build a story around.

2) Ask enough questions to generate more material than you need. For a 500-word profile, I’ll ask 7-10 questions and if the person is replying over email, I’ll ask them to shoot for 50-100 words per answer. That will usually give me enough background, facts, and quotes to pull together a good first draft, after adding in the organizational info.

3) Don’t use everything you get. I rarely use everything a profile subject says or writes, because half of it ends up being irrelevant to the particular story angle. Use the details and quotes that support the story you are telling about this person and the connection to your organization.

4) Keep the biographical stats to a minimum. A profile isn’t a biography. Include enough personal details so we can get a general sense of who this person is, but don’t let it drag out into a whole life story. Let us know if we are reading about a man or woman (if the name doesn’t give it away), give us clues about the person’s age if you don’t say it outright, and be clear about their connection to the organization (volunteer, donor, client, etc.).

5) Include several quotes. Let the profile subject talk about how great your organization is and the wonderful work you are doing in his or her own words. They’ll mean a lot more coming from the person than if you said them yourself. I always ask donors, for example, “Why did you first get involved with The Nonprofit?” and “Why do you continue to support the work they are doing now?” Both questions usually produce a great quote to include in a profile.



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