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Mission Control / Higher Education and Nonprofit

Not Your Average Donor Profile: 4 Ways to Mix It Up

Donor profiles play an important part in fundraising efforts, but they shouldn’t all look and sound the same. We offer concrete ideas for making these pieces more compelling and personal.

By Rebecca Au-Mullaney

You already know that stories play a powerful role in persuading donors to contribute to your organization’s mission. Before you write your next donor profile, use these ideas to make your nonprofit storytelling stand out.

1. Share Tangible Details and the Donor’s “Why”

To write a powerful donor profile, you need to ask the right questions in your profile interview to uncover the specific story of why your cause is important to the donor. Some questions to ask in a donor profile interview include:

  • Tell us about the moment that you heard about our organization. Where were you? What were you doing?
  • Is there anything in your personal life that makes our cause particularly meaningful? Do you have a personal connection to the issue?
  • What do you hope your gift achieves?
  • If the donor is part of a couple: How have you involved your partner/spouse in these charitable decisions?

Try to encourage the donor to go beyond general answers. It takes specificity for your readers to connect with the person and envision themselves giving.

See It in Action

We helped Phoenix Children’s Foundation create this profile of the dynamic Don and Ginger Brandt for its Moments publication. Notice the specificity:

  • The piece opens with a description of the lobby of Phoenix Children’s so readers can picture a space that is especially important to Ginger.
  • This pivotal, persuasive moment is sure to resonate with readers: When the Brandts were working on their estate plan, friends told them, “It’s a lot more fun to contribute to something while you’re alive.”
  • The couple describe the unique aspects of Phoenix Children’s that they wanted to support: a health library, a play zone, a chapel and more.

2. Delight Readers With the Unexpected

As much as is appropriate for the person and the topic, you can tap into a spirit of play as you craft your profile. Things to try:

  • Use custom CTAs: Instead of ending your piece with generic language like “Donate to help support XYZ’s mission,” experiment with a unique call to action that echoes the themes of your story and the person you’re profiling.
  • Capture the donor’s voice: Listen back on the interview recording to catch exact phrases. Let the donor’s unique voice come through in their quotes.
  • Provide context: Don’t solely rely on the donor interview to tell the story. Conduct outside research and include relevant statistics to help readers understand the urgency of your cause.

See It in Action

The University of Chicago’s profile of Mary Rose Shaugnessy, PhD, gives readers a vivid sense of the former nun’s spunk and humor, including her devotion to her wooden hull catboat and her efforts to include more Black and female authors in the school’s curriculum.

3. Widen Your Interview Net

The obvious choice for a donor profile is an individual or family who made a major gift. But what other stories do you have to tell?

  • If you are a university trying to increase the percentage of alumni who give, consider profiling an alum who gives a modest amount, but consistently. Why do they keep writing a check every month or every year?
  • Has anyone in your network championed a valuable partnership, using their position to draw others to the mission?
  • Is there a volunteer in your organization who has chosen to make your cause a regular part of their schedule?

This idea of interviewing more widely applies to classic donor profiles, too. Include perspectives from friends, business partners or even former teachers to get a new angle on your subject.

See It in Action

Rutgers University published a profile about the late Georges Sara, the major donor behind the school’s new Digital Dentistry Center, but you might not know it from the introduction. The story opens from the perspective of his daughter, Jessica Mitri, dealing with the aftermath of Sara’s death.

Through the lens of Mitri’s experience, readers learn the impact that Sara had on Rutgers dental students. Sometimes you need to take a step back to see just how significant a gift was.

4. Spend Just as Much Time Thinking About the Visuals as the Text

The images that accompany your donor profiles are just as important as the words. How can you best showcase the donor’s personality?

  • Instead of shooting posed portraits, take an editorial approach with the photography. Does the person have a hobby or regularly volunteer? Get images of the subject in action, whether it be at home, at work or at your organization.
  • Accompany your profile with a complementary video. It could be a separate Q&A with the subject, a deeper dive into a particular area of their giving or even interviews with the people impacted by their philanthropy.
  • Short on videography budget? Try using looping B-roll of the person doing something they love, spending time with loved ones or in action at your organization to make the page more dynamic. Bonus: This kind of footage is incredibly useful to have when sharing the piece on social media.

See It in Action

Johns Hopkins University tells the compelling tale of the Attman family’s journey from patients to major donors through text and video. And the video isn’t a re-hash of the text — it’s a stand-alone piece that gives additional context to the story and brings in multiple voices. The result is an inspiring donor profile package that highlights the family’s motivation behind creating the Phyllis L. Attman Meningioma Lab at Johns Hopkins.

Make Your Donor Profiles Stand Out

Are you ready to create donor profiles that convert? We’d love to help you out.


Rebecca Au Mullaney Blue
Rebecca Au-Mullaney Editor

Rebecca has more than a decade of experience in nonprofit and higher education marketing, with roles ranging from alumni magazine editor-in-chief to director of strategic communications. At C/A, she spearheads content programs for clients such as the Osteosarcoma Institute and NYU Langone Health.

When she’s not working, Rebecca can be found exploring every park in a 30-minute radius with her two young daughters. She enjoys journaling, painting and talking big ideas with her husband and friends.

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