It’s a question that all adoptive parents ask themselves, usually just before creating their profile but often afterwards as well.
Next to word of mouth, your adoption profile is the most important marketing tool you have to connect with an expectant mother who is facing an unplanned pregnancy and considering adoption for her baby.
But with so many profiles on display online and elsewhere, how do you make yours stand out? Fresh from the success of his adoption memoir, Open Adoption, Open Heart: An Adoptive Father’s Inspiring Journey, Russell Elkins has just come out with a new book that supplies the answers.
Hoping to Adopt: How To Create the Ideal Adoption Profile is a a short, easy read, jam-packed with valuable tips and examples on how to find the right words and photos to set yourself apart from the crowd and make an impact.
The way Russell sees it, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. As a result, you need to do everything you can to make sure that your profile grabs the attention of an expectant mother right away and holds it.
When it comes to creating a profile, every agency has its own criteria. And yet despite their differences — whether you need to create an adoption website or a scrapbook, a one-page profile or five-pager — Russell points out that in each case the same principles apply.
Recently I had the chance to ask Russell about what makes a successful parent profile and about how hopeful adoptive families can increase their chances of getting chosen by an expectant mother with an adoption plan.
1. How important is an adoption profile for parents hoping to adopt?
You can be the most amazing couple in the world, ready to give a child the most amazing home, and a perfect match for any birth parent out there, but if your profile doesn’t catch the attention of people looking through the profiles, you’re going to have a really difficult time getting chosen. You have to be noticed or you might as well be invisible.
2. What makes an ideal parent profile?
A few things, but mainly that you have to know how to catch someone’s eye and you have to know how to effectively show who you really are.
3. What are the most important elements?
It’s really important to understand the different levels of a profile. For example, the goal of the profile picture (the first picture someone sees on your profile) is different than the other pictures in your portfolio. The goal of the profile picture is to grab attention — you have to know how to draw someone in. The other pictures have a different purpose.
With the profile letter, it’s essential to include certain details — things potential birth parents will be specifically looking for. It’s also important to avoid certain things. When putting together the book, I surveyed hundreds of birth parents to find out what types of things caught their interest and what turned them off when looking through profiles.
4. Many people hoping to adopt find it tough to get started. Any tips on how or when to create a profile?
That’s one of the things I focused on the most in the book — knowing how to get started. The easiest way to get started is to create a list of what you want your profile to “say.” It’s difficult to explain this in just a few sentences, but what I mean is that every part of your profile “says” something. There are ways to present yourself in the light you want to be presented, but it’s really common for people to know what they want their profile to say, but they choose pictures and words that don’t say it.
5. Two pieces of advice that hopeful parents often hear are “just be yourself” and “write from the heart.” But that’s easier said than done. As a writer, what do they mean to you?
It’s funny. The advice is true, but, yes, it’s hard to do. If you’re not yourself or sincere, potential birth parents will pick up on it every time. Writing is a form of communication, and just like any form of communication, the more you do it the more you become fluid — the more it flows naturally. Blogging helps immensely — even if you’re blogging about something that has nothing to do with your adoption — it helps with the fluidity of writing.
6. What are some of the most common writing mistakes that adopting parents make when creating their profile?
The profile letter is not a resume. It’s not meant to be lists of things that qualify you to be adoptive parents. There are ways of presenting yourself, being able to convey all of your wonderful qualities without making your letter like a boring list or resume. The most affective profile letters are the kind that are interesting to read — even for those who aren’t looking to place a child for adoption.
7. Let’s move on to photos — how important are they in the overall package?
Photos are essential. In fact, if you haven’t done your photos right, the quality of your profile letter probably won’t even matter. A profile letter takes time and effort to read, but photos don’t. Photos are noticed and scrutinized first, so if your photos do nothing to properly present what you want to say, potential birth parents won’t take the time and effort to read your letter. It’s as simple as that.
8. You mention that hopeful adoptive parents spend a lot of time focusing on their hair and clothes when they should be focusing on other things. Tell me about about those other things…
Naturally, this statement doesn’t mean that it’s okay to use a picture that looks like you just woke up. What I meant in this was that the goal of a front profile picture, or even the pictures inside the portfolio — the goal of the photos is different than a family portrait. Family portraits, engagement photos, etc. are all meant to make you look stunning. Of the hundreds of birth parents surveyed for this book, not a single one ever said they picked a couple because of their hair or clothes. There are ways to make your photo “say” what you want it to say. Just because a picture may be the most flattering picture of you and your spouse, doesn’t mean it would work for a profile picture. There’s a different goal and different focus.
9. At one point, you write that “cheesy is better than boring.” Does that mean that anything goes — or there any certain types of photos that don’t belong in your profile?
“Boring” is one of the worst things that can be said about a profile. “Cheesy” is acceptable if it’s done right. It’s important to keep in mind that “cheesy” can have a close relationship with “stupid,” which is a line you want to stay far away from. Still, I know that my wife and I chose some cheesy photographs for our profile and guess what — we did it on purpose. There are places in the profile where cheesy can be really advantageous, and there are places where it would be a bad idea. No, not anything goes. If you push the “cheesy” point too far, anyone looking at your profile is likely to say, “That couple is a little too far our there for me.”
10. You can spend hours writing and re-writing your profile. How do you know when you’re done?
Well, if you’ve done your profile properly, you never really are done. Like I said before, there are different levels to the profile, and one of those levels is your blog. If you don’t have a blog, you’re really crippling yourself. Your blog needs to be regularly updated (what “regularly” means depends on your own opinion).
As far as the more formal part of the profile, that’s a tough one. With every book I write, I can always think of things I would change if I went through and did another draft, but there comes a point where you have to say, “Okay, it’s time.” Just, for goodness’ sake, make sure you’ve had some friends help you proofread it.
11. Most hopeful adoptive parents hate writing their profile. Are their any life or adoption lessons they can take away from the experience that can help them view the process a little more positively?
I know. I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys writing, so my wife was more than happy to let me tackle the letter writing part.
For some people, the worst part about writing the letter is how they hate to write about themselves. I’ve read some great profiles where a husband will write about his wife, and the wife about her husband. For some people, that makes it easier and it can be really endearing. This way isn’t for everyone, though. Try to think of something you do like to write, and write it that way — still sticking with the important parts of the profile letter, of course.
12. The book has just come out but I hear it’s already had its first success. Tell me about the story of the family that modeled for the cover…
My wife is a professional photographer, and we both share the same philosophies/insights for profile pictures. The book was released just a few weeks ago, but we had received the first shipment of books over a month ago. As soon as I got them I gave some of those first copies to the family on the cover. They had been waiting for quite a while, and when they read the book, they changed their profile picture to the picture on the front cover (now they knew why my wife had done the picture the way she had) and changed their profile according to the advice in the book.
In the adoptive moms words, “This book works! (And not just because we are on the cover)… I read it, adapted some of the advice into our own profile, including changing our profile picture…. just a week or so later, we were contacted by a birthmother and now have a beautiful baby girl! I know, this might be the extreme, but there really is some great advice in this book. And I guess I should say that the birthmother said it was our profile picture that drew her to us.”
13. I can’t let you go without asking you about the sequel to Open Adoption, Open Heart. Can you give me a sneak peek about what it’s about and when readers can expect to see it?
Open Adoption, Open Heart was released a little over a year ago and I love having our story out there. The sequel is going to be called Open Arms. It’s written in the same style and format as the first one, telling of our journey with open adoption in a way that the reader can live through our experiences along with us (through my eyes as an adoptive father). It continues the story of our first adoption, telling about how we have continued to build our relationship with our son’s birthmom and with others.
The majority of this one, though, is the story of our second adoption. There are just as many emotional ups and downs with this story, yet it’s very different from the first. This time, instead of the adoption taking place from across the country like our first one, the birth parents are here locally, so we found ourselves learning and dealing with a lot of new things. I had hoped to have it out already, but ya know how it goes. Publishers and editors like things just right, so I’m doing one more draft to get it just right. It should be out in about two months and it will be awesome!
What do you think of Russell’s advice? What do you think makes an ideal adoption profile? Please leave your comments in the section below.