I recently had the pleasure of organizing the PWAC Toronto Chapter professional development seminar on Writing to Change the World, and participating on the panel. Thank you everyone who joined us and made the discussion so lively and enjoyable.
For those who couldn’t join us, some highlights follow.
Cathy Mann on Fundraising
Our first panelist, Cathy Mann, is president of Cathy Mann and Associates. She helps charities navigate the fundraising process. She serves as the academic coordinator and an instructor for Ryerson University’s Fundraising Management program.
Cathy pointed out there are 165,000 non-profits in Canada, and half are charities. The Non-profit sector has as large an impact on the economy as mining, oil and gas combined.
Almost half of Canadians have volunteered, and Mann advised tapping into your network to learn about organizations where your friends and family volunteer could help you find writing work in the sector.
She recommended great resources to help freelance writers learn about fundraising and fundraising materials. These include the professional development events held by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Ryerson’s Fundraising Management program.
Cathy was eloquent about the need for fundraisers and communicators to work together. In her experience, this can fail to happen and hamper the organization. I can’t reinforce her message enough. We must understand the goals behind what we’re writing, and that means working with the fundraisers who are developing the fundraising strategy and working hard to build relationships with donors.
Nandy Heule on Journalism, PR and Writing for Non-profits
Our next panelist, freelance writer and PR professional Nandy Heule, told us about her background in news writing and how it has helped with her work writing for non-profits in health and international development. She shared many great tips for working in the sector and has graciously submitted her top tips for the blog. Her own words follow.
News writers bring special skills to the table that are needed in the non-profit sector. When pitching your services, you can tell your prospects the following:
• You will help the organization unearth fresh stories that will be timely and relevant to stakeholders.
• You’ll expect that the organization will help you understand who these stakeholders are so your writing will have impact.
• You will be able to recycle these stories for different media platforms (and save money and time).
• You will be able to do so on short notice because that`s what you were trained to do (and fit the “last-minute” culture of many non-profits).
• And, last but not least, you understand the importance of factual accuracy and deadlines.
Finally, if you have to work with an editorial committee (something you want to avoid unless the assignment pays by the hour), insist on first developing a creative brief. Next, insist the committee assigns a primary contact who will be your go-between.
Karen Luttrell on Building a Freelance Business that Serves Small Non-profits
I was the third panelist. I help charities raise more money, find more volunteers, and fill their programs through strategic communications and inspiring writing. I shared perspectives developed from managing communications at charities and non-profits as well as my learning from building my own business, Karen Luttrell Communications.
For example, I’ve learned that clients may need communications advice and strategy in addition to writing, even if they haven’t thought of it that way. Learning as much as you can about communications, PR, marketing and fundraising will help you add value and write more useful materials.
One great resource to help you is the Nonprofit Marketing Guide website. For information about using Facebook for non-profits, I suggest following John Haydon. Artez Interactive, a peer-to-peer fundraising company, offers free webinars on charity marketing and fundraising topics and keeps an archive so you can play them back on your own time. You’ll find one I presented on e-newsletters for donors in the archive.
Over the past few years I’ve learned to expect long business development cycles, tight deadlines and even tighter budgets. I love writing annual reports and brochures. But a freelance business based solely on one-off marketing pieces or annual projects for small nonprofits wouldn’t work financially. So I’ve been working to develop more steady, predictable income by offering nonprofits services like email newsletters and social media management.
Another key business learning for me has been that I have to be clear about what I will do as volunteer work and what is my core fee-for-service business. And I have to be prepared to say no, as gracefully as possible, to requests for pro bono work.
I’ve learned that I can give valuable content about nonprofit communications rather than giving free consulting hours or writing services. So now I have a set amount of time to develop this content that also helps me with my marketing and business development. That helps keep me from letting my empathy hamper my ability to pay bills.
There was a common theme among all the panelists. Our work with non-profits doesn’t make us rich, although it’s rewarding in other ways. For me, the most rewarding part by far has been talking to people who have had their lives touched, and even transformed, by the organizations with which I work.
That’s the part that keeps me coming back to work with social causes, again and again.
If you’re ready to start looking for non-profit clients, you could start by looking at the Charity Village website and its directory of organizations, at the Revenue Canada charity listings, or at the Ontario 211 directory of community services. For more about that and links, see my previous post.
For more highlights from the event, see the Storify summary that captures the live tweeting and comments made with the #pwacpanel hashtag.
Karen Luttrell has been leading digital marketing initiatives for more than 13 years. She offers writing, communications and social media services for nonprofits and socially responsible businesses. As VP Communications of PWAC Toronto Chapter, she manages the Twitter and Facebook accounts. Tweet your social media questions to her at @karenluttrell.