I believe in the power of the written word to inform people, to touch their lives, and to change their world. If you’re a journalist, you probably believe in this power, too. Writing for some of Toronto’s 5,785 registered charities can be another option for local wordsmiths who want to work in a space where hopeful idealism, language, and social change overlap.
Most registered charities and non-profit organizations need communications and marketing materials, including annual reports, news releases, newsletters and website content. Some need writing for awareness campaigns, advocacy projects, and fundraising initiatives. Increasingly, organizations are looking for support to manage their social media presence.
Each of these types of writing has special requirements and challenges, and have been the subject of many tomes. Here, I’m sharing just a few of my favourite resources—links to give you a glimpse of the writing and communications services needed by charities and non-profits.
• The classic by Mal Warwick, How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters, is still my favourite book on that topic.
• Samples of fundraising materials from around the world are gathered and curated by SOFII—the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration.
• Writing to Change the World, by Mary Pipher, is a book I found useful in my early days of advocacy work.
• John Hopkins University Center for Communications Programs shares information about behaviour change campaigns to improve health.
If you’re intrigued and would like to learn more about Canada’s voluntary sector, Imagine Canada is a good place to look for information about issues that affect the sector. You may also find it helpful to follow announcements by the Ontario Non-profit Network.
When you’re ready to start looking for clients, you can search the Canada Revenue Agency Charity Listings, where registered charities submit financial information. You will also find a list of organizations at charityvillage.ca, a portal for Canadian charities.
Depending on the size and structure of the organization you approach, you may deal with a separate marketing or communications department. Or a person responsible for fundraising may be your contact. Some organizations have an agency or receive pro bono services. Others have a staff person who writes. It varies from organization to organization, but many need freelance help from time to time. Often the best person to speak to will hold the title of manager or director of marketing, communications or resource development.
In addition to looking for great writing skills, potential clients will want to know that you are passionate about their cause, knowledgeable about the communities they serve, and sensitive to any special challenges faced by those communities.
Unlike objective news reporting, for many advocacy and fundraising projects, it will be essential that your passion and your belief in the project come across in your persuasive writing. So if you share my belief in the power of the written word and the importance of our voluntary sector, please jump in. And don’t be afraid to let your idealism show.
Karen Luttrell is a PR consultant, marketer and communicator. The owner of Karen Luttrell Communications, she writes for non-profits in health, education, poverty and equality.