Secret Copywriter

5 July 2017

Charities! Your freelancers could be some of your best ambassadors

A friend recently asked me: “Why do some charities lack basic ethics when they’re commissioning and working with freelancers?”

This wasn’t a new topic for me. Sadly, I know a handful of freelancers who’ve experienced this.

What follows isn’t a rant, it’s a call for common sense and courtesy.

Charity doesn’t always begin at home

I’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the voluntary sector. And I’ve:

  • proudly displayed their logos on social media
  • name-dropped to friends and relatives, and said how pleased I am to be working for such good causes
  • felt smug when others ask “How do you get into it? It’s so hard to break through from the private sector”.

As a charity copywriter, it feels good to know that your words could make a positive impact on someone’s life at a time when they need it most. Who wouldn’t feel good about that?

But, although you feel fulfilled because you’re using your writing skills to help good triumph in a cruel world, you’re treated like a minion by the charity.

To them, you’re nothing more than a faceless entity with no financial commitments or plans of their own, who’s out of sight, out of mind and churning out work from some distant home office.

Badly managed projects

We’ve all seen it… projects cancelled without any kill fee, baffling scapegoating after unclear briefs, shrinking and expanding deadlines, delayed payments and haggling over price:

“Does it really cost that much per hour?”

“Yes. It’s an industry standard rate….”(sigh)

You’d think that the voluntary sector would be a safe place to find satisfying work with nice clients. That’s not always the case.

Don’t get me wrong, some charities really do have solid work ethics when it comes to how they treat their freelancers.

And sometimes things go haywire for the best of us, and the best of organisations. But the key for someone commissioning a freelancer is: don’t go AWOL if that happens.

What you do and what you say should match

The best charity clients are the ones who: keep the lines of communication open and clear, provide information in a timely manner and give alternatives if the boundaries of an agreement change.

But sadly, time and again, many charities seem to lack these basic standards. Or forget them when it counts.

Surely the very organisations that make a point of talking about their values (and are in the business of treating people and planet fairly) should be modelling the change they want to see in the world in the way they deal with their freelancers?

Instead of rolling out the red carpet for people who’re able to make hefty donations, or treading on eggshells around the people who use their services.

Your reputation’s at stake

These aren’t the kind of comments a charity wants to hear about themselves:

 “It’s disorganised.”

“I don’t mind freelancing because the money’s OK, but thank goodness I’m not a staff member as they’re a nightmare to work for.”

“I’d never donate to that charity.”

“I don’t care about that issue now. They’ve really put me off.”

“I’ve told my aunt to cancel her direct debit.”

Your freelancers should be your greatest ambassadors.

That’s the crux of the matter.

Ask a freelancer if they would donate to the charity they’ve just worked for. If they say a resounding “yes!” that’s a great sign.

It’s not just about how you treat your service users or clients, it’s how you treat your freelancers and your staff.

So, to charities out there, large or small, world famous or just making their way, be mindful of how you communicate with your freelancers.

Because, if you have a positive working relationship, they could be some of your biggest publicists and donors.

The Secret Copywriter’s keen to hear about other people’s experiences of working with voluntary sector clients.


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