You’ve been asked to write a nonprofit bio introducing your new ED. When you protest, you’re told “It’s simple. Just a few facts. Really, we don’t need much.” Ack.
It’s not all that simple. How do you know what facts to include and what to leave out? What will your audience find interesting? And what the heck do you do if haven’t met the new ED yet? Ack!
Here’s an outline to get you started and some tips to help you along.
Do Your Research
- Find out what the bio will be used for and understand readers’ expectations. There are probably length limitations; it’s best to know before you start to write. No point in writing 500 words when 50 will do, or in embarrassing yourself by handing over something much shorter than expected.
- Who are you writing for? The bio must meet your audience’s expectations. Board members and staff? You may want to write something more formal. Volunteers and the community? Less formal may work here, depending on your organization’s culture. Know your audience first.
- Where will they read it? Is this for social media, a report, a letter, or a website? Length will also be an issue here. You want crisp and tight, especially for social media. Longer and more wordy is OK for a letter, a report or a website when there are fewer restrictions on space. But don’t ramble on! You still want to keep it crisp.
- Line up the facts. What is it your audience will most likely want to know about the new ED? How much of their professional past is important? How far back do you go? Would the audience care what the ED’s outside interests are? Use 10 years as a guideline for how far back to go, but know your audience. More experience can establish credibility, especially for senior positions. Include degrees, certifications and awards; these can be especially important in the nonprofit world.
- A bio isn’t a resume. Summarize the facts in paragraphs, using complete sentences and correct punctuation. Start with the present situation and write in reverse chronological order. Next most recent situation or job, the one before that, then the one before that. You get the picture.
Check Your Work
- Review review review. Send your draft to others and ask for their input. Review first for factual accuracy. Then review for flow—does the bio make sense?
- Next tackle grammar and punctuation. Don’t rely on spell/grammar checkers!
- Finally, give the bio a good copy edit. Have others do this for you if you can—another pair of eyes (or two) will catch things you’ll miss.
- Explain it to Grandma. If you get stuck, use the grandmother trick. How would you explain what the ED has done to your grandmother?
- Watch out for humor, especially if you tend toward the ironic or snarky. What’s funny or edgy delivered in person might seem cold and callous on paper.
- Share personal information carefully. Again, you need to know your audience as well as the person you’re writing the bio for. Some people share everything; others are not comfortable doing so. In some cases, sharing personal information can endanger the individual and even other staff. When in doubt, leave personal tidbits out.
- Read the bio out loud and see how it sounds. Make sure your work flows when you read it out loud. More and more people are relying on the spoken word from their devices.
- Don’t let great be the enemy of good. There is such a thing as too much review where you’ll reach the point of diminishing returns. Time to let your baby go.