6 Tips to Take Bios From Boring to Brilliant
When it comes to building relationships and trust with supporters and prospects, sharing the smallest, most specific details about your organization’s people is a proven tactic. Is that what you’re doing?
Relationships are built person to person, not person to organization. So put your people forward! Pithy, punchy staff bios — with photos — introduce prospects to your organization at a personal, emotional level, motivating them to dig more deeply into the details of how your organization tackles its cause and how folks can help as donors or volunteers.
Here are some well-tested guidelines for crafting bios that help audiences connect with your organization, illustrated by some useful models:
1. Start with these bio basics. Staff bios are simply story-based versions of the information you’d usually include in a résumé. They’re designed to provide an accurate sense of who your team members are and what they do, to establish expertise and credibility, and to qualify their experiences and background.
This format is less formal and more accessible than a résumé (when done right) and gives you an opportunity to highlight a few interesting facts about each team member while injecting a touch of personality. Together, these elements combine to nurture trust in your team and your organizational brand.
But crafting bios that connect isn’t as easy as it looks. Even organizations that do so much right, like the Appalachian Mountain Club, can misstep here. The American Mountain Club’s laundry list of leadership names gives me no sense of the organization’s culture, or a face, or personal detail to hold on to! I like seeing photos of some of the animals saved by the Española Valley Humane Society, but I wish I could learn more about some of the team so dedicated to this important work. It’s tough to take the next step in getting involved when you can’t get a sense of whom you’re counting on to advance the issue you both care so much about or whose salary you’ll help pay as donor.
2. Introduce the folks who make your organization work on a daily basis, not just top leadership. Provide bios for your leadership (including board members), but go beyond that to incorporate bios of program, communications, fundraising and other key staff at the director or manager level if possible. Grassroots folks should be profiled too, if they’re the ones your supporters are most likely to meet. Don’t overlook them.
If your organization is huge, and it’s not feasible to feature all directors and managers, cycle their bios on your site. If your organization is very small, include bios for all staff members, since they are all so hands-on.
- When I’m researching an organization I’m thinking of giving to the first time, one where I may volunteer, or a prospective client, I want to know who’s on the ground, not just who’s running the show.
- These are the folks that the media will want to source as experts in the field.
- Remember to link to bios via your Newsroom and Experts listings, as well as in your About Us/Leadership content.
- Plus, the perspectives and expertise of your organization’s directors and managers add up to a strong take on your organization’s culture, values and long-term planning.
- Sometimes showing it is just as (or more) important than saying it.
- Remember, different audiences will want to make connections at different levels. A prospective board member may limit his digging into senior management, but a prospective new organizational partner or hire is going to want to learn more about his possible colleagues-to-be.
- The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois shows its strength by featuring compelling bios of its senior and midlevel leadership.
- Longer versions of senior management and other key player bios should be offered as PDF downloads or as separate, high-profile pages like this warm intro to NARAL Pro-Choice America by its president, Ilyse Hogue.
- I like seeing the faces of the entire Watershed Agricultural Council team, but wish I could learn more about some of the team members. The single bio featured is that of the executive director.
3. Make bios clear, friendly and brief. Consider team bios the written equivalent of a conversation opener at a professional gathering, and make them brief and compelling. Otherwise, you’ll lose your reader in a flash:
- Make it real by asking team members to draft their own bios to guidelines you provide.
- Advise them to write in third person (as if someone else is writing it for them) — this enhances the professionalism and makes readers more willing to trust what’s being said.
- Use a conversational tone.
- Split bios into short paragraphs to make them easier to digest, and for online versions, include supporting information as links whenever possible.
- Skip nonessential details such as hometown and all degrees.
- Add a personal end note as a finale. This is the kind of info that readers can relate to quickly on an emotional level.
These Clean Water Action team bios are clear, friendly, brief, and highly effective in establishing comfort and a sense of the organization. I was particularly engaged by the personal end notes. Here’s one that helps me get a real sense of Michael Kelly, communications director: “You can usually find Michael wandering through any of the Smithsonian Institutions (Free! Museums!) when he’s in DC. When he’s not in the District, he works from home in Seattle where he lives with his long-term partner Lauren.”
4. Incorporate these elements in each bio. (Share this list with your colleagues as they draft theirs.)
- Introduce yourself as if you’re meeting a stranger. Lead in with your name. People need to know who you are before they hear what you’re all about.
- Talk in the third person.
- Immediately state what you do. If you are “communications associate,” don’t wait until the last moment to say it. This establishes your role or niche right away. Your most important details should go in the first sentence.
- Touch on your most important accomplishments, rather than listing them all. A bio is not a résumé.
- Include items of professional interest. Make note of your most important or relevant professional designations, associations and awards. These show you have deep connections in the field.
- Make sure you mention speaking engagements and/or published articles or books. Such credibility boosters are subtle third-party endorsements.
5. The photo makes the initial connection — make sure it’s a good one.
- Keep the photo style (formal or casual, inside or out) in keeping with your organization’s style.
- Use a color headshot. Some prospects will just look at your photo and draw a conclusion; the picture needs to be so good it can stand alone.
- Make eye contact, and dress neatly and professionally (a suit is definitely not a must, and sometimes professional means jeans). But as my mom always told me, “Appearances matter.”
- These photos of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater staff members — scroll down; they’re there — are incredibly warm and welcoming. They visually convey the spirit of the organization — vibrant and outdoorsy!
6. Keep it fresh. Once you have team bios you’re comfortable with, remember that they’re not set in stone. You’ll want to update and modify them periodically to reflect changes. Ask your colleagues to keep their bios in mind and share updates with you as they evolve.
Put your people forward, today!
Nancy Schwartz is president of Nancy Schwartz & Co. and author of the Getting Attention! blog. She also is a member of the FundRaising Success Editorial Advisory Board. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org