5 Steps to Lucrative Gigs Writing for Nonprofits - Make a Living Writing

5 Steps to Lucrative Gigs Writing for Nonprofits

Carol Tice | 19 Comments

5 Steps to Lucrative Gigs Writing for NonprofitsBy Alan Kravitz

Can you really make a living with nonprofits?

I get this question a lot — especially since I specialize in nonprofits. My answer is an emphatic “yes” — if you’re realistic and target your prospects carefully. These are gargantuan-sized ifs in the nonprofit world.

By realistic, I mean that at least for now, be prepared to negotiate pricewise. While $75-$100 per hour is still realistic, there’s no question that nonprofits have been adversely affected by the economy.

Many face not only charitable decreases, but also state and federal funding cuts. As a result, CEOs are slashing every budget they can — including outsourcing budgets.

But the good news is that you can navigate these bumps and do pretty well for yourself by being smart and strategic in your approach. Here are five steps that have always worked well for me.

1) Go for big organizations and/or big names. If the United Way likes you, they’ll give you lots of work. So will Bill Gates. The best nonprofits are run very much like businesses — and often by top businesspeople, too. But this leads me to:

2) Avoid the grassroots. Yes, it sounds heartless. But if you want to make a decent living here, you’ve got to use your head more than your heart. Small, local organizations probably can’t pay anything close to what you want (or need.) Save the grassroots for volunteering.

3) Pay attention to your mailbox/inbox. The causes you already support should get priority on your contact list. Why? Because there’s already a bond there. Non-profit professionals are very passionate and dedicated — and they like vendors who share their mission. And be sure to mention your support in your pitch. While that alone probably won’t be enough to seal the deal, it’s still a big plus.

4) Do your research. There are many online tools, but my favorite is Charity Navigator. Here, you can easily see what an organization raises annually.

For me, a charity has to raise at least $3 million to pique my interest — and ideally I go after the ones raising $13 million and up. These are the organizations that have budgets to pay writers decently.

Just as important, Charity Navigator also independently rates charities for financial effectiveness. I pay attention to charities that get at least 3 stars (out of four.) The more professional a charity is with their own donors’ dollars, the more professional they’re likely to be with you. Charity Navigator will also link you directly to the organization’s website, so you can research names of marketing/communications directors, development professionals and chief operating officers. Once you have all that:

5) Start calling and emailing. I hear collective groans now, but I’ve gotten several clients this way (including two just this week.) And since nonprofit folks are some of the nicest people around, even the rejections are sprinkled with thank yous. Referrals, too!

Final tip: Just be patient.

Especially now, you’ll probably hear prospects say, “We want to do this, but we’re waiting on funding.”

Don’t despair. Be understanding and stay on their radar. Your persistence will eventually pay off.

In fact, one of the great advantages of a nonprofit niche is a steady work flow. If clients like you, they will come back to you – a lot.

Got any advice for targeting nonprofits? Tell us in the comments.

Alan Kravitz is a freelancer copywriter and editor at The Infinite Inkwell. He specializes in writing for nonprofit and socially conscious for-profit organizations.

19 comments on “5 Steps to Lucrative Gigs Writing for Nonprofits

  1. Stanislaus Dedalus on

    I appreciate the post on writing for nonprofits, really useful information for some of us looking into this kind of writing. Although I do have a question as to how to call out to these nonprofit organizations: how should I write to them and offer the specific writings that I can offer them?

    I’d like to be able to help write blog posts and newsletters for nonprofits, but I’m not sure how exactly to write to them.

  2. Nancy Lindsay on

    I am interested in freelance non-profit writing for small organizations, particularly working on issues I care about. Is this something I can do part time, or do these companies expect full time support?

    • Carol Tice on

      Nancy, small nonprofits expect you to work for free, mostly, as a volunteer. They don’t have the budget to hire writers. On the upside, they don’t expect “full-time support” — not even sure what that would be. But if they need a full-time copywriter, they’ll have to hire one.

      You’ll want to target larger nonprofits if you want to earn from it.

  3. Katherine Swarts on

    Good stuff. I want to specialize in nonprofits myself–particularly, Christian organizations with missions focused on encouraging the depressed and otherwise helping people build better lives. My question is: When cold-contacting a nonprofit, how do you word your query so they understand you are not offering your services as a volunteer, nor as a paid staff member, but as an independent contractor? I don’t know if this is a common problem, but I HAVE gotten replies (from major nonprofits) that amounted to “sure, we can always use volunteers,” or “check with the HR department.”

    A note on Point #2: I belong to an e-group of freelance Christian editors and have lost count of the number of times someone has complained, “I did this project for a church/small nonprofit and when it came time for them to pay me, they gave me this line about ‘we’d been praying God would move your heart to donate your services.'” I somehow doubt they were also praying that God would make the project’s monetary value appear in the writer’s bank account.

    • Carol Tice on

      Your key word there is “small.” You have to get out of the world of small nonprofits to get away from the volunteer mentality. Larger nonprofits have real marketing budgets and understand that you’re not donating your services — because you’ve signed a contract up front. You must be working without a contract for an organization to make a crack like that at the end of a project.

      I think the liberal use of the phrase “professional freelance writer” in your pitches should leave no doubt as to the type of working relationship you’re trying to establish.

  4. Alan Kravitz on

    Thanks, Cathy. Sounds like you’ve got things pretty under control. It should be easy to find out attached organizations just by casually asking around. Something like, “Hey, i hear you’re involved with…” Sometimes, there are not formal documents with these things, unless the other organizations are either official sponsors or donors.

  5. Alan Kravitz on

    Hi Cathy,

    Depending on how new the start-up is, it could be difficult to determine viability simply because they haven’t been around long enough. I try to avoid start-ups unless a) the people starting it up have DEEP pockets or b) are very well known in their field/community. On the other hand, if the people running the non-profit fit these categories, this could be a good deal for you.

    When you say you are worried about being “sucked in,” do you mean that you’re concerned that they think of you as a staff member as opposed to an outside contractor? I’ve had this happen with some of my non-profit clients. I’ve had to just talk to them and say, “Look, as an outside contractor, this is what I can do and this is what I can’t.” I’ve found that when I’m firm with them, they respect that.

    • Cathy Miller on

      Hi Alan:

      Thanks for the reply. I appreciate it. The founder is not one with deep pockets; however, there are some well-known organizations purported to be attached to the foundation. I wasn’t sure if there were any public records (or something like that) where I could verify their attachment to the organization. Looks like for this situation, I will just have to conduct business as usual with required deposits and smaller projects to assure my time is well-spent.

      You hit the nail on the head regarding thinking of me as someone who is part of the staff for the foundation. I already had the conversation that any use of my name must make it clear I am an independent contractor and not an employee of the non-profit. I also discussed the need to look at my availability for specific projects.

      Thanks again for your insight, Alan.

  6. Cathy Miller on

    Hi Alan:

    Like John, I was recently approached by a non-profit that found me through some articles I wrote and my website. It is still in the early planning stages. I sent a proposal in November without compromising on my fees and expected never to hear from them again. To my surprise, they contacted me in January and I have done some smaller projects, and so far so good.

    Like what I imagine many founders of non-profits have in common, there is passion by the bucket loads. I am still leery of their attempt to suck me in line, hook & sinker. (They already had a draft PowerPoint with me on an org chart!) As long as we can make it work for both of us, great.

    Any suggestions for keeping control of the situation from my end? Like Carol read on my LinkedIn question, I don’t want my end being the non-profit. 🙂

    Thanks for some solid advice in this post, Alan.

      • Cathy Miller on

        I get that. What I am looking for is insight into things to look for with a non-profit just starting up. Alan has offered great advice on established non-profits, but is there a way to see how viable a start-up is?

        For example, they have applied for a grant. They throw around a lot of potential (and existing) partner names. Is there a way to check out the affiliation without a whole lot of fanfare that could damage a potentially good relationship?

  7. Brown Eyed Mystic on

    Number five strikes a chord with me as well, Alan.

    It’s a pity that many of the freelancers are mostly trying to keep beating it behind the bush and avoiding the direct approach. I was one of them but not long ago, decided that if I am the one who wants something, I must do something about it. Before dreaming of changing the world, one must change themselves–as simple as that.

    I approached a wonderful online entrepreneur and blogger who’s been in media many times. I loved her blog and asked her if she needs a helping hand–and voila! We will now be working on a book together (I as her editor).

    Life is good 😉

    Thanks for this inspirational post, Alan.

    -BrownEyed

  8. Samar on

    While I’ve volunteered my services for a cause (WAHMs have a soft spot in my heart), I’ve never worked for a non-profit. I’m curious about the type of writing you can do for them.

    Is it all about grant writing? Or are there other types of writing to be done for Non-profits?

    • Alan Kravitz on

      Samar,

      There are many more possibilities beside grant writing – though grant writing is certainly a biggie. I’ve done direct mail (another huge non-profit need), brochures, websites and articles – you name it. Most non profits need everything that for-profits need, so if you have a particular organization in mind, I would recommend talking to them and letting them know what you can do for them. Good luck!

  9. Alan Kravitz on

    Thanks, John. Yes, small locals certainly are a good place to get started and build clips. I’ve certainly done that. It’s all good as long as you’re okay and realistic about getting little or no money for your efforts.

  10. John Soares on

    Alan, top-notch piece on writing for nonprofits. It’s not my specialty, but a nonprofit found my website through a Google search. I’ve made nearly $10,000 from the gig over the last year, and the rate has averaged near $100 per hour.

    On the flip side, I’m on the board of directors of the Mount Shasta Trail Association, a small nonprofit that promotes hiking in my local area. We definitely don’t have much money, so I agree that local nonprofits likely won’t be a lucrative source of income, although they could be a good place to get started.

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