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How to Write a Compelling Alumni, Donor, or Patient Profile Story

Profile stories offer a quick and convenient way to provide your audience with a personal perspective of your organization. With few exceptions, a profile story can add value for any industry.

A university, for example, has plenty of subjects to feature – new students, popular professors, student-athletes. A nonprofit might spotlight a donor or someone who benefitted from the services the organization provides.

Industries with complicated issues or perception challenges can use the profile story to add a human face to its narrative. A healthcare company might profile an expert who can discuss complicated projects in simple terms general audiences can understand.

Wondering where to start with a profile article? I’ve been there myself as a journalism major in college and then later as a professional reporter.  Here’s some advice to help you organize your thoughts, wrangle your process, and produce content that’s interesting and shareable.

Choose a Format

Before you start tapping out the story on your keyboard, choose the right subject. Do you want to focus on the services your organization provides? Or do you want to highlight an individual who benefitted from your services? Maybe you want to focus on a standout employee to illustrate the quality of your organization, and highlight the resources available to your audience?

Next, choose your format. 

The Bulleted Profile

Readers like their information in easy-to-digest chunks. Often, they prefer to scan and then move on. This is where the Bulleted Profile shines. In addition to being easily read, the format doesn’t take up much space on a webpage, e-newsletter, or email.

Bulleted profile articles tend to be on the lighter side, so the questions you ask should match this format. Below are a few examples to help get you started.

  • How long have you worked for the company?
  • What’s your favorite part of your job?
  • What are some of the biggest changes you have seen since you started here?

The Story Profile

The Story Profile contains more information about the subject and helps keep readers on your website. While it’s not “War and Peace”, a good Story Profile can run over 1,000 words while still allowing for interesting design and graphics. Even better, it can be chopped up and sent out via numerous channels: social media, blog posts, newsletters, etc. Always look for ways to repackage content.

You’ll discover that the tone and flow of a Story Profile are completely different than the Bulleted Profile. It reads as more of a conversation than a newsy, informative type of article.

For example, your lead paragraph could read something like:

“Joe Employee has been with Acme Industries for close to a decade, and during his time here, he’s seen a great deal of growth in the company. He’s watched the employee section at “Acme’s Night at Camden Yard” triple in size. As someone who loves working with people, Joe’s excited to see so many new faces join the company’s ranks .”

Story Profiles generate excellent quotes. Be on the lookout for those nuggets which can grab a reader’s attention:

“Everyone says they enjoy working with people. I do, too. But what’s really rewarding is setting challenges for your employees, giving them guidance, and then watching them achieve those goals. That’s the biggest reward of all.”

There are plenty of factors that will dictate the format you choose – your subject’s availability,  your deadline, and how long it takes for your article to be approved. After you identify your candidate, and what you want to accomplish, it will be easier to determine which profile will best deliver your message.

Research First

People love to talk about themselves, so the goal is to have them discuss what’s important to them. During the interview process be sure to take notes – smartphones usually have voice recorder apps to help ensure you don’t miss a single detail.  Observe how they speak, the tone of their voice, their mannerisms. Paint a picture of this person for readers.

The more you know about your subject, the more complete your profile story will be. Invest time into finding out more about the interviewee – hobbies, awards, special recognition, their first day on the job – these are the details that add richness and another level of interest to your profile piece.

After you’ve completed your research, write 15-20 questions for your interview subject. You’ll need this many because you’re going to review the list, delete those that aren’t relevant, and have 10 solid, thought-provoking questions.

Here are a few to get you started:

  1. What was your first day like with the company?
  2. What major changes have you seen in your time here?
  3. What is your job here?
  4. What about the company makes you proud to work here?
  5. What is one thing you couldn’t do without during the work day? Why?

Avoid yes-no questions; they make for boring interviews. Open-ended questions provoke thought and prompt your subject to explain themselves.

Schedule and Conduct the Interview

If your questions require significant thought from your subject, consider providing them before the interview. In some cases, it may be easier for them to provide you with written answers, but be careful. While email interviews can help speed up the process, they can also lead to profile articles that are dry and formulaic.

Live interviews provide responses that are more spontaneous and interesting. Once you get your subject talking, the conversation will follow its own course. You may have to keep him or her from straying, but there’s a great chance you’ll discover a piece of information or anecdote that will captivate your audience.

As the interview draws to a close, ask your subject for “final thoughts” or “anything else you want to say?” Wrap up the interview by asking, “Is it okay if I touch base with you in case I need to verify something you said?” After all, you want your article to be engaging, but it has to be accurate.

Outline Your Narrative

After the interview, take time to review the information. As you do it, write an outline. Just like how they taught you in high school. It’ll help you organize your themes, identify narrative threads, and develop a cohesive story.

Introduce the subject with a summary of his or her role in your organization, and set the tone and purpose of the article. From here, you can use your line of questioning to frame the narrative.

For example, focus on a challenge that your subject encountered and then have him or her describe how they succeeded. What steps did they take? How did they use company resources? What teams did they work with? And once they met that challenge, how were they changed for the better? You’re telling their story, but you’re also telling a story about the company in a positive light.

Edit For Clarity and Impact

After you’ve written your masterpiece, leave it alone for a day. Come back and read through the story. Be ruthless with your editing. Cut information, reorder paragraphs; whatever you think makes the article easier to read and more entertaining. If it doesn’t keep your interest, why would it keep anyone else’s?

Run a spelling and grammar check and read the article out loud. You’ll pick up errors you might gloss over otherwise.

Finally, consider sharing your draft with a coworker you trust, and ask for honest feedback. Make the necessary changes and give it to your profile subject for final review.

Distribute the Story

Many companies that regularly publish content have developed some kind of editorial calendar and identified channels to publish the content on. If your company is a business-to-business venture, clients and potential customers are more likely to discover your article via a post on LinkedIn. On the other hand, if your space is business-to-consumer, Facebook might be the clear choice.

The official company blog also makes a great starting point to host the story. From there, it’s a matter of spreading the news on your organization’s various channels. No blog? No problem. Social media-integrated publishing channels like Medium provide a dynamic platform for writing, designing, publishing and sharing articles with several different types of audiences.

Before you share any links via social media, write a compelling snippet to include with your posts. Tease the reader with enough information to pique their interest.

Photos of your subject, his or her interests, and even a quick video describing the article’s content can be shared out to visual platforms like Instagram and YouTube.  If a story gets some engagement — such as likes, comments or shares — consider expanding its reach through promoted, boosted or sponsored posts. Most social media platforms offer fast, easy, and relatively affordable ways to put your story in front of more audiences. Even a five-dollar investment could yield hundreds of additional views.

If your company has an e-newsletter, that’s a power channel for exposure. It provides an excellent medium for serializing the story and spreading it out over a period of time. Remember, keep your audiences wanting for more.

Look inward for other ways to publish the article. Ask other departments and teams to share the story with their contacts. Write a short sentence and include an article link with it and ask employees to drop include it in their email signature.

Don’t be afraid to submit your story to industry publications, there’s a good chance they’re looking to fill space, and your submission might be exactly what they needed!

Final Thoughts

A profile article makes for interesting reading while educating readers on your company’s mission and purpose. Finding the right subject is key to your article’s success – his or her story and background can inspire readers.

Writing a profile article can be quick and easy — if you plan ahead. Having a process in place will save you valuable time while helping you produce a piece that celebrates your stakeholders, educates and inspires your audience, and casts a positive light on your organization.