What ruins many a good story about a nonprofit client, volunteer, or donor is the broad brush. It produces profiles that are way too shallow and wide. You try to cover too much about the person in too little space, and we end up with an "overview" of this amazing individual, instead of a compelling story we can't forget.

Post Hole DiggerHere's my best tip for telling a story about a single person: put down your broad brush and pick up your post hole digger.

For those of you unfamiliar with this tool, post hole diggers dig a deep, but narrow hole that a fence post can sink down into. You want to do the same thing with your profile. Pick a fairly narrow aspect of this person's personality or experience, and go deep into that one aspect of the person's story.

Here are some examples, taking some typical broad brushes we see in nonprofit profiles and turning them into post holes.

Broad Brush: Talking about a volunteer's family tree, e.g., Mary has been married for 36 years to Phil, and they have four children, and 15 grandchildren.

Post Hole: Ask Mary which one member of her family most shares her passion for your cause. Explore that single relationship in your article.

Broad Brush:  Talking about a donor's educational background, e.g.,  Frank graduated from high school in Missouri, but went to college in Pennsylvania, where he received his BS in Biology. He then traveled back across the country to California to work on a Masters blah blah blah . . .

Post Hole:  Ask Frank what kind of degree he would like to get today if he went back to college. Or ask him what memory from his college days relates to his donations to your cause today.

Broad Brush:  Throwing in details without helping us see why they matter, e.g., In her spare time, Jenny enjoys running and playing guitar.

Post Hole: Pick one of those hobbies, and figure out a way to relate it to her love of the cause. Has Jenny ever run a race for charity, and how did that go? If she was going to write a song about her experience with your nonprofit, what kind of song would it be?

When you are interviewing your profile subjects, don't be afraid to go a little off-track with your standard list of questions. That's how you get to the best "post hole" details that produce memorable, moving stories.

Learn more in our webinar, Telling Powerful Stories about Everyday People.

This article first appeared in Kivi's Nonprofit Marketing Tips, a free weekly e-newsletter.