How to Build a Successful Freelance Career in the Charity Sector
The appeal of freelancing has never been greater. Today’s laptops are powerful, convenient and compact. Flexible and ad-hoc working relationships are totally conventional. And digital means of communication connect people and organisations across industries and time zones in an instant. In other words, if you want to retain your professional freedom and go where your heart takes you, you can do it.
But what if you want to do it in a specialised sector like non-profit? Are freelance roles as easy to come by as they are in the corporate world? And do they pay nearly as much?
It’s simple enough to do a bit of contracted work for a private company, where lasting attachments don’t matter so much and mercenaries are welcome—but it’s harder in the charity sector. There, people are emotionally and morally invested in their work, and commitment is the norm. But ‘harder’ doesn’t mean impossible, and there are reasons why it happens.
Why working with freelancers is beneficial for charities
Although commitment is the norm in the charity world, there are some key benefits to bringing in freelancers for non-profit projects:
- Remote working is greener. Charities care about environmental concerns and hiring freelancers with home office setups can help to reduce commute emissions.
- Office space is expensive. Budgeting can be tricky for charities, with most of what they have going towards helping people—so it’s not always easy to find the money for big office space. If charities hire freelancers, they don’t need as much office space.
- There’s no training required. It often takes time to get new full-time hires up to speed with how operations work, but freelancers are accustomed to different styles of working and don’t need any such training to get started.
- Some skills are rarely needed. Non-profits will sometimes need branding work done—new logos made, new slogans devised—but the rest of the time they may not have any meaningful design work to be done. Hiring freelancers instead of regular workers helps to prevent charities from ending up with expensive unused human resources.
So, with all that said, how can you establish yourself as a thriving freelancer in the charity world? Let’s go through some key tips to get you moving in the right direction.
1. Be willing to adapt
Let’s say you’re qualified as a video editor, and you want to shift your focus to organisations with a clear social purpose. That’s fine, as video marketing is an important part of running a charity effectively, but you should be willing to consider also helping out in other ways. Here’s why: a charity might hire you for video work, only to realise that it needed a video script written but didn’t have the time or funds to hire a dedicated scriptwriter.
In that scenario, you’d have two options: expect the charity to deal with it, or step in to help out with the script at additional cost. It would be faster and less expensive to pay you extra, and with your video experience, you’d likely be able to do an adequate job. The more flexible you can be, the more valuable you’ll be as a freelance asset.
2. Have a polished process
The process I’m referring to, of course, is your professional process. You need to be a consummate pro, and that requires making it as easy as possible to work with you. Charities tend to have stretched budgets and limited time to deal with organisational issues, after all — if you communicate poorly or fail to meet deadlines, you’ll mark yourself as a hazardous hire.
This means doing everything from providing a clear set of terms at the outset (how you can be reached, what your rates are, etc.) to invoicing clients in a timely fashion (prep for this as best you can—if you use Office, there are templates for Excel that can make life easier). The less time your clients need to spend dealing with you, the happier they’ll be.
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3. Volunteer when you can
Charities might often be run like corporations, but they pursue radically different goals, so you need a different mindset when looking for a foothold. Instead of bombarding managers with pitches, or even going to networking events and hoping to make some relevant connections, try volunteering with charities you’d like to work for.
This will show how eager you are to get involved, and that you’re willing to be directly charitable (even though you’ll ideally benefit from it as well). It will also allow you to get to know charity workers better—how they think, what they’re looking for—so you can cater your approach. (Additional bonus: volunteering is good for you.)
4. Talk about your passions
You might have a wide range of qualifications and certificates to prove that you’re perfectly capable of filling a particular role. You might have a sterling record of exceeding your clients’ expectations. You might even have a brand website that exudes professionalism and efficiency. But even if all of these things are true, you’ll struggle to connect if you can’t showcase a connection with the cause.
As noted earlier, charities often expect more from the people who work with them. They champion causes near to their hearts and don’t want to see them treated with cold clinical pragmatism (even when that’s practically justified). You need to be more than just professional: you need to be emotionally invested. It’s only by showing that you genuinely care that you can persuade someone to entrust you with part of something that matters to them.
Think freelancing sounds right for you? We say, go for it
Charities often need to work with freelancers, lacking the kind of funding needed to retain full-time workers, so there’s plenty of opportunities for you to build a lasting career—but you need to approach it in the right way.
Think you’re ready to start applying? Follow the suggestions we’ve looked at here and you should have a solid chance. Good luck.
Rodney Laws is an ecommerce expert with over a decade of experience in building online businesses. Check out his reviews on EcommercePlatforms.io and you’ll find practical tips that you can use to build the best online store for your business. Connect with him on Twitter @EcomPlatformsior.