Profile Writing: Who’s in Your Audience?

by Emily Davis

Providing a profile report to your development officer is, possibly, the most important action, outside of the actual research and recommendation, that a prospect researcher will ever do. There are generally two schools of thought about the best way to present your information and recommendations: A narrative and bullet points.

Writing Profiles for the Development Officer

While each researcher may prefer a particular style, usually the one that comes the most natural to him or her, the true decision about what type of report to send to your development officer should lie with the preferences of your particular officer. Some development officers may wish to receive a flowing narrative describing the life of your prospect, while others may wish simply to get single, bullet pointed facts highlighting the prospect’s major life events.

At your first meeting with your development officer, you should provide them with samples of these two reporting styles and allow them to guide you as to the best way to present them with the information that you gather. Not only will this decision allow you to better partner with your development officer, but it will better assure that your work will be reviewed and utilized instead of being placed in a drawer and forgotten.

Personally, as someone who prefers to deal solely in facts, I prefer the bullet pointed method. Thankfully, the majority of my development officers also fall into the category where they prefer to have bullet points. However, some of my coworkers are often found writing flowing narratives in order to provide their development officers with a full, rounded narrative of the prospect’s life.

While I do not envy them this task, I do admire their ability to take these, sometimes, dry facts, especially numbers and dates, and transform them into a beautiful story meant to engage the development officer in the prospect’s life.

If you are unsure as to which style best suits your development officer and organizational goals, there are several websites online compiled by fellow researchers where you can peruse a variety of reports.

When attending your first meeting with a development officer, it may be easiest to provide mock write-ups of a prospect using multiple formats. That way, the development officer will be able to easily compare and contrast his or her options.

The goal of any researcher is to provide information in such a format as to benefit the development officer with whom you have partnered, the organization for whom you both work, and the prospect and his or her interests. At the heart of any report should always be what lies in the best interest of your prospect. Regardless of which type of report you and your development officer decide to utilize, that is one piece of information that should never be omitted.

Once you have determined what style of profile report is best for your particular development officer, you need to focus on gathering and presenting your research in such a way as to show a complete picture of the prospect. The purpose of the development officer’s meeting with the prospect is not simply to encourage the prospect to donate to your organization; instead, it is to help the development officer cultivate and build a legitimate relationship with that prospect.

Providing Recommendations

In addition to providing your development officer with basic information, consider providing him or her with recommendations on the best way to cultivate or solicit this particular prospect. Not only will your development officer find this insight useful, it should, if your recommendations prove to be successful, encourage further collaboration between you and your development officer. The closer and more in sync the development and research sides of an organization are, the better the experience for the prospect and the better the outcome for the organization.

Recommendations to your development officer should be made based on past giving; wealth that you have uncovered; familial connections; interests; volunteer activities; information gathered from social media, blogs, and news stories; and areas of career focus. If your instincts tell you that a prospect is likely to be more interested in one particular program than another at your organization, provide that information to your development officer as it could benefit his or her burgeoning relationship with the prospect.

As you may have spent anywhere from an hour to several days researching the life of your prospect and his or her family and other connections, you are in a unique position to provide your development officer with recommendations based on both the world of the prospect and how that prospect travels through the world. Facts and figures, and even a flowing narrative, can only provide part of the puzzle to a development officer headed to a cold call.

Your recommendations may allow your development officer to say the right words or provide the correct information to entice a prospect to engage further with him or her. Sometimes, it’s not about having the most information. Sometimes, it is solely about having the right information at the right time and your recommendation may just be that “right information.”

Navigating Different Environments – What Do You Do?

Every organization is unique, with staff and constituent idiosyncrasies that stretch us out of the comfort zone of our personal preferences. In some offices, the prospect research professional supports a large number of development officers and, in others, is aligned with a department or small number of development officers.

What is your story? Can you implement the personalized approach suggested here or have you found other paths to achieve the same success? How do you write profiles for your audience?