Charity copywriting: creatives working for free

“If you work in marketing or advertising…kill yourself” said Bill Hicks. “You have no rationalization for what you do, you are Satan’s little helpers. Kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself now. Rid the world of your evil presence.” Not easy words for a copywriter or an art director to hear. So given that we’re all going to hell, on a level just above lawyers, it might be worth getting some extra credits so we can at least get an en-suite room or Sunday’s off from branding (the ‘red hot poker’ kind not what you do now). My solution is a marketplace website where freelancers can offer hours and charities can post jobs.

Donating to charity, fundraising, volunteering, giving blood, random acts of kindness… there are many ways we can and should be helping others every day. But surely as communications professionals we should be able to use our powers for good for once? Is there an easy way we can find non-profit organizations that need help? A quick google check would suggest the answer is no.

If we want to do charity freelancing for free, we can all email Greenpeace and say “would you like a brochure”, but it’s likely to be met with a thanks but no thanks. These larger charities are already organised and have their own freelancers and are usually happy to pay for the reliable results they get. It’s the smaller charities and those new to the third sector that need the most help, but are hardest to get in touch with.

Recruitment websites for charity copywriting

charity copywriting campaignWe can post on existing recruitment websites. There are many freelancers out there servicing the charity sector, and many offer a discount rate – and do a very good job. But they also work for other clients, and I argue that creatives are in severe karma-debt, and charging charities just digs them in deeper. We should all be given the chance to redeem ourselves a little.

Freelancers for the third sector obviously feel justified in charging, because they see it as work like any other, and they have gained experience and have the skills. Charity copywriting for fundraising, as an example, for a non-profit organisation is just like writing for healthcare or any other sector, you have to know what you can and can’t say and the best ways to say it. Just because you’re good at writing for IT doesn’t mean you’re good at charity copywriting, but given a chance and with the client’s patience and guidance, a good copywriter can turn their hand to anything. Web-design and other creative disciplines are an easier transition.

Freelancers do offer discounts to charities, but not very much, and it is falling. People4business.com, a recruitment website in the UK said that “previously the average discount was 14 per cent and this has now dropped to 9.8 per cent. The implication is that freelancers are just as willing to give a discount but, as they feel the economic pinch, this discount has been reduced to a figure more in line with what they feel they can afford” (Source). A 10% discount to charities is far from generous and I think there are freelancers prepared to work for free if it was made easier for them.

A third option for the third sector: a matchmaking website

I propose a recruitment-style marketplace website where freelancers can post their skills, preferred charity sectors, what they’re prepared to do and offer a certain number of hours a month for free. While charities can post ads for ads or websites they need making. The website templates already exist and a simple, initial website should not be difficult. Copywriter Collective website already has portfolios of over 100 freelancers online and this content could be uploaded to a new website if enough freelancers offered their services. A few viral ads to promote it around the creative community and word would quickly spread. The non-profit sector is equally close knit and charities would become interested if a serious service was offered.

The website would have to have moderators to ensure only experienced professionals could register, and include a rating system for feedback to highlight the most reliable freelancers and ensure they give their all to projects. The same goes for charities: only official registered charities should be able to post and not companies after free work. Creatives could choose charities they have an affinity with, and charities should choose creatives who’s skills most what they need doing.

Freelancers reading this who are employed by charities might suggest the website could have optional rates, where they can offer their services at a reduced rate, but this would just confuse matters. The charities might assume that the people asking for more were better, when that wasn’t necessarily the case. For the website to work effectively it has to be an even playing field where creatives are judged on merit alone.

What do charities need from creatives? Creativity and commitment

Freelancers get good karma and an opportunity to do really fun creative work that they can’t do for ordinary clients (examples) for their portfolio, but what do the charities get and what do they need?:
1. Creativity – they need to raise money and the way to do that is with new fundraising ideas that will persuade people to part with their cash. There are some fantastically original ideas out there that have brought huge revenues in for charities in all types of mediums, not just traditional print ads. Nowadays a lot is online as it’s cheaper and spreads faster – every charity and fundraising campaign has a website at the heart of it and they need copywriters and web-designers to write and design a website and do it well. Here are 40 of the best.
2. Commitment – when you offer to work for free for a charity you need to have the same commitment as if you were getting paid. If they commission you for a style guide but you take 6 months to deliver, they suffer a big delay in their fundraising. And if you aren’t freelance, think carefully about how much time you can commit before signing up.


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4 replies
  1. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    I live in a small town that has many charities. Several times I have volunteered to do copywriting for a charity. To date, no one has taken me up on it. Perhaps plans changed or they didn’t understand. I don’t know. I think it’s a good thing to give service through copywriting.

    I know people who write for charitable organizations may disagree. And their point has merit, too. Surely if their small fee brings in 10x or 100x the amount in contributions, the charity is better off than if they used someone less qualified or skilled.

    Good topic. Good idea for philanthropy.

  2. Donna
    Donna says:

    I currently volunteer for 2 non-profits. To be honest 2 is actually a lot and I have to agree with point 2 in this articles closing paragraph on Commitment. In hindsight, I should have discontinued my work at one before taking on a second non-profit, but felt bad. Now I am delivering a lower standard of work while I try juggle the 2 and also my own clients and other work.

  3. Tom Scholl
    Tom Scholl says:

    I opened my ad agency in the Spring of 1981. I had spent the preceeding 20 years in the Creative Departments of two large agencies in Detroit, so my work was fairly well known in town. Within a few months, I was innundated with opportunities to help charitable organizations with “projects” — of course Pro Bono. My solution was to take one caritable organization as a “client” for one year at no charge. Of course I had trouble extricatinng our agency at the end of the year but, otherwise, it worked well. We served suxch clients as CYO, Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, Ronald McDonald House,Michigan Council on Economic Education (helping the teaching of economics to kids K-12) and others. My staff got to know the “accounts” and our long-term committment allowed us to offer better planned campaigns. I don’t know of any other small agency that has tried this. Maybe they should.

  4. Sean
    Sean says:

    There are lots of copywriters and other marketing and communications professionals currently working for charities and getting paid to do so. Paid because they offer high quality work, on time and hitting the brief, which is what the charities need to raise money and promote their cause. Why do you want to set up a scheme that will undercut fellow professionals and possibly reduce their livelihood, simply to do a little good? Why not let them get on with their work, or compete for it to be paid like you would any other account, and then give some of the money you make to the charity of your choice? Wouldn’t that do some good without putting the boot into other people?

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