How to Thrive as a Freelance Writer for Nonprofits and Causes
Interested in writing for nonprofits and worthy causes?
Freelance writing for nonprofits is an amazing opportunity to earn a great living while making a difference for organizations and causes you believe in sincerely.
That’s because the nonprofit industry is huge — with estimated revenues of $79.9 billion in 2021 here in the U.S. alone.
A good portion of that revenue will naturally go toward helping the causes associated with each nonprofit. But another portion of that money is used for operating expenses, including paying for writing services.
Since nonprofit organizations recognize the positive impact that professionally written fundraising and other communications can have on their bottom line, they’re ready and willing to pay freelance writers well for their skills.
Of course, it depends on the nonprofit industry that you’re most passionate about and their budgets, but it’s not unusual for writers to charge anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 per project.
In this article, we’ll delve into what makes writing for the nonprofit industry so unique and rewarding, as well as the types of clients you might find and projects that are in high demand.
Why Freelance Writing for Nonprofits Is a Big, Rewarding Opportunity
One of the most important reasons freelance writers choose nonprofits and causes is that they want to make a meaningful difference in the world.
And they get to do that every day through their writing.
But many other benefits come with this particular writing specialty …
1. You Get to Work with Organizations You Believe In
If you have a cause that’s close to your heart, it doesn’t have to be something you limit to your spare time.
You can fully embrace that cause as part of your writing career by focusing on working with organizations aligned with your values. This puts you front and center working with organizations you believe in.
And with your freelance writing services, you can help those organizations thrive and provide much-needed services to their target populations.
It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
2. Your Work Has an Immediate Positive Impact
If your writing helps a nonprofit organization improve their reach, they’ll also have more impact on their cause.
For example, if you help a local animal shelter make more connections in the community, they’ll be able to find more loving homes for the animals in their care. Or you might help them raise more funds, which also improves the care they provide.
Choosing nonprofits means your writing often has immediate and tangible results, which can be one of the most rewarding parts of your freelance writing career.
3. Your Impact Can Keep Spreading
Keith Trimels, AWAI member and successful copywriter, talks often about how writing has a “ripple effect” that reaches much farther than you could ever imagine.
Regardless of what you write, you never know who it’s going to reach or the effects it will have on a person. The impact of your words alone can change people’s lives — even people you’ll never meet.
Keith started the hashtag #WritersRipples to capture this phenomenon.
In his own career, Keith has worked with a nonprofit organization in Mexico that helps impoverished single moms and abandoned kids get an education. He wrote a fundraising letter that helped the charity pay for a new educational building.
Keith might not ever meet all the students, but he considers the small part he played in improving their futures as one of his many #WritersRipples.
4. You Can Make Plenty of Money
Don’t assume that an organization won’t be able to pay you handsome fees just because they’re a nonprofit.
The truth is that nonprofits specialize in fundraising, so they know how to generate the money they need to keep operating.
This is why nonprofits pay freelance rates similar to those of for-profit companies.
Freelance writing rates can vary widely, depending on your clients, and this is no different in the nonprofit world. Many organizations pay freelancers professional rates, whereas others may try to pay less.
But with some discernment, you can easily make a very good income freelance writing for nonprofits. In some instances, you could make as much as $2,000 to $5,000 per project.
We’ll discuss strategies for finding high-paying nonprofit clients later in this article. For now, you can get an idea of typical freelance writer rates in AWAI’s Copywriting Pricing Guide.
Types of Organizations You Might Work with as a Nonprofit Writer
You might be pleasantly surprised at just how many different types of organizations you can work with as a freelance writer for nonprofits and causes.
Your potential clients may include tax-exempt organizations as well as for-profit companies that support causes. An example of a regular business that supports causes is TOMS shoes, which donates one-third of its profits to grassroots community organizations:
Because there are plenty of clients that need writers, you don’t have to put limitations in place when it comes to picking organizations and companies to work with.
All types of organizations, from bigger companies like TOMS to smaller, tax-exempt organizations, may want your writing services to broaden their reach.
Below are the six main types of organizations that regularly use nonprofit freelance writers.
1. Nonprofit Organizations or Charities
The different types of tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations are downright awe-inspiring. These are organizations dedicated to promoting a specific social cause or advocating for a shared group need.
In the United States, as well as many other countries, organizations like these that provide a public benefit are granted tax-exempt status. Donations are also tax-deductible for the individuals or businesses who make them.
They don’t have to pay tax on their revenue, but nonprofits rely heavily on donors and fundraising to support the services, outreach, education, and other initiatives they offer. And they need to communicate regularly with a variety of constituents — from their potential donors to their professional allies and other associates.
As an example, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is a nonprofit that has two different divisions: one for outreach to the general public, and one to support animal welfare professionals called ASPCApro.
You can see they run a separate website for each division. This is the website for the public ASPCA:
And this is the website for ASPCApro:
Both of these divisions of the ASPCA need a regular supply of written materials to communicate with their respective audiences, from website content to emails to direct mail packages.
And as a nonprofit freelance writer, you can help them create these materials.
If you want to start searching for a potential nonprofit to work with, a great place to start is CauseIQ. CauseIQ has a massive listing of nonprofits throughout the United States, as you can see below:
You can search for nonprofits in a certain category or by location. So, if you have a certain cause you’re interested in, you can search for that. Or simply look for charities near you.
If you want to search in another country, try an online search for “nonprofit listing + [Your Location].”
You’ll most likely discover a similar listing in your local area.
2. Nonprofit Conferences
Many different nonprofit industries hold regular periodic conferences, both online and in person.
These give nonprofit organizations an opportunity to network and share information about what’s going on in their industry.
One example is the Faith & Fundraising Conference, which is specifically meant for Christian fundraisers:
Attending conferences like these can be a great way to meet potential clients and make connections in your chosen nonprofit industry. Or you can simply take a look around a conference’s website to see who’s speaking and what types of organizations will be attending. Doing this gives you the chance to find out the names of people within the organization that you can reach out to regarding the types of writing services they need.
If you want to explore conferences in your industry, RKD Group Thinkers Blog has a great listing of nonprofit conferences here.
3. Industry/Trade Associations
It may not be obvious at first glance, but industry and trade associations are also considered nonprofit organizations.
They operate on donations and sponsorships from their members and advertisers, and they are often tax-exempt.
One example is the North American Veterinarian Community (NAVC), an association that supports the veterinary community. They hold various education events each year, as well as produce ongoing veterinary publications.
All their outreach materials need to be written by someone, including website and social media content, published magazines and articles, and regular emails to their members.
In addition, NAVC and many other industry and trade associations need to consistently publish content to help get attendees to their conferences, get new members to sign up, and get new subscribers to their publications.
And this is where many industry associations turn to freelance writers.
Pam Foster, AWAI’s learning chief, has worked with NAVC as a freelance writer, so she knows firsthand just how much industry associations need professional writers.
To find an industry or trade association in your area of interest, try searching Wikipedia for trade associations in your country.
This is Wikipedia’s page for industry trade groups in the United States:
You can see it has an extensive listing of trade groups related to a huge range of different industries.
These are all potential clients who may need your help as a writer.
4. Industry/Trade Conferences
In addition to their regular outreach efforts, professional trade associations often host annual conferences within their industries.
As you can imagine, all these associations need a lot of content written to help promote and organize their conferences.
It’s worth checking out the different types of industry conferences you might be interested in and investigating which organizations serve as host.
Then you can reach out to those nonprofit organizations to see if they need help with specific writing projects.
For trade conferences in the United States, Orbus has a good listing here.
And EventsEye has an extensive listing of international industry trade shows and conferences you can search.
5. Nonprofit Marketing Agencies
Marketing agencies provide marketing and advertising services for their clients.
And some marketing agencies specialize exclusively in serving nonprofit organizations.
For freelance writers, there are many benefits to working with a nonprofit marketing agency. The main one is the amount of work agencies offer. In fact, most agencies have multiple clients with a variety of writing needs, so they value the skills a specialized nonprofit freelance writer offers.
If you develop a good working relationship with an agency, it can become a valuable partnership for both of you.
For example, Mary Guinane is a senior writer for RKD Group, a marketing agency that specializes in helping nonprofits with their fundraising efforts. Mary started out as a freelancer but then found that she absolutely loved working with agencies. When RKD had a job opening, she decided to become a full-time staff writer with them.
If you’re interested in working with agencies, you can start with an online search for agencies that specialize in nonprofit work to see if any might be a good fit for you.
Or for more suggestions on working for agencies, check out our free webinar on How to Land Freelance Writing Projects with Agencies and Other Firms.
6. Companies Supporting Causes
The term “cause marketing” refers to a partnership between a nonprofit organization and a for-profit company for mutual benefit.
Earlier, we mentioned TOMS shoes, which gives one-third of their profits to community organizations.
Many other for-profit businesses have similar arrangements with a wide range of nonprofit partners, such as Dr. Squatch, a natural soap company that donates part of its revenue to causes that focus on education and health:
Clearly, this benefits the causes that are being supported and helps increase their funding and potential impact.
But it also benefits the image of the for-profit company. Consumers like to do business with companies that have values similar to their own.
In fact, 5WPR, a public relations agency, found that over 70% of all consumers felt it was important that companies they buy from align with their values:
5WPR’s findings show that the values a company displays are important to its overall image and success.
And as a freelance writer for nonprofits, you can help them effectively communicate their values to their potential clients and customers.
Types of Freelance Writing Projects for Nonprofits and Causes
Now that you have a good idea of who you can work with as a freelance nonprofit writer, let’s delve into what you can write for them.
In short, nonprofits need all the same copy and content that we discuss regularly at AWAI.
If you already specialize in a certain kind of writing, such as emails or newsletters, there’s an excellent chance your skills will be needed in the nonprofit world.
But if you don’t have a specialty yet, these are a few core projects that nonprofits — and nearly all other companies, for that matter — need on a consistent basis.
Project 1: Content Marketing — Blogs and More
Content marketing refers to the entire range of content that nonprofits and other companies use in their marketing efforts to attract their target audiences.
Whether a for-profit company is selling a physical product, or a nonprofit is asking for donors, the marketing process they’ll go through to acquire new customers and supporters is nearly the same.
And that process requires a lot of content to introduce themselves to potential prospects, then lead those prospects through what’s known as the content continuum as pictured below.
We discuss content marketing in more depth in our free webinar Marketing Basics for Writers. You can watch the webinar here if you want to get into the details, but the following diagram is an excellent overview of all the different types of content that go into content marketing campaigns:
You can see the diagram shows the different stages of awareness that prospects typically move through — first becoming aware of an organization and learning more about it, then potentially ordering something or becoming a donor, and then needing some support and follow-up as they continue their journey with the organization.
At each stage of the continuum, specific types of content are needed to support the prospect on their journey, such as blog posts, white papers, case studies, videos, and even chatbot content.
And content marketing never stops. Nonprofits have an ongoing need for new supporters and donors, so their marketing efforts are never done. Which means they always need skilled writers to help them produce all that content.
Project 2: Social Media
Social media is an amazing opportunity for nonprofits to connect directly with their supporters.
Not only is it a great way to communicate with existing sponsors and other affiliates, but social media ads can extend a nonprofit’s reach and help bring in more leads and potential donors.
Some nonprofits get marketing agencies to help with their social media campaigns, which are often linked to other marketing initiatives, such as email or direct mail campaigns.
If you’re interested in exploring becoming a social media specialist, Nick Usborne takes you through everything you’ll need to know in his program How to Make Money as a Social Media Marketing Expert.
Project 3: Email Marketing and E-Newsletters
Email is another excellent way for nonprofits to stay in touch with current and potential donors and supporters.
You’ve likely been prompted to sign up for an e-newsletter when you’ve visited websites of nonprofit organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund:
Once you’re on a nonprofit’s email list, they’ll often keep you informed of what they’re doing and how you can get involved.
And this is another writing project that nonprofits need on an ongoing basis. Email and e-newsletters are sent out regularly, so nonprofit organizations will always need new and fresh email content.
Project 4: Grant Writing — Find Funds to Hire You!
Nonprofits often get funding through grants from a variety of sources.
Fundera, a financial consulting group, gave the following list of their top choices for nonprofit grants:
Their list shows that various for-profit businesses provide grants, as well as banks and other organizations. Government grants are also available in many countries.
No matter what type of grant a nonprofit decides to pursue, getting the help of a freelance writer who knows how to effectively write grant proposals will mean the difference between successfully winning the grant — and not.
You can provide an invaluable service to nonprofits by becoming a skilled grant writer.
If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to check out our program Grant Writing Success: Opening the Door to Financial Opportunity.
Project 5: Case Studies
Case studies are success stories of those who have benefited from a nonprofit’s efforts in some way.
It might be individual success stories, or the success of a certain campaign.
For example, this is the case study of a graduate student who won a scholarship from the National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation:
Writing case studies that showcase the positive results of a nonprofit’s work can be especially rewarding.
An excellent website that includes a variety of case studies is called Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII).
As their name suggests, they include many inspiring stories of successful fundraising campaigns around the world. But it’s also well worth studying this site as an example of how to effectively write for the nonprofit industry.
SOFII often examines and takes apart successful fundraising campaigns to see what made them so effective. For nonprofit writers, these analyses are highly valuable and can show you what to do in your own writing.
Four Ways to Get Started as a Freelance Writer for Nonprofits and Causes
Nonprofit writing is an excellent opportunity for all writers — whether you’re a seasoned freelance writer or just starting out.
And like seizing any other writing opportunity, the best way to get started as a nonprofit writer is to simply start!
Follow these four steps to help land your first nonprofit clients.
1. Position Yourself as a Nonprofit Writer
If you have a writer’s website, make sure it’s clear that you specialize in writing for the nonprofit industry. Include your specialty on your business cards and other promotional material as well.
And one of the best ways to start positioning yourself as a nonprofit freelance writer is on LinkedIn.
Take Sheryl Williams’s LinkedIn profile as an example:
Sheryl has made it clear that she writes for nonprofits and why she’s qualified to do so.
If a nonprofit organization found her LinkedIn profile, they would know they’ve found a writer who’s perfect for them.
For more tips on using LinkedIn to position yourself and get clients, check out our free webinar LinkedIn Now: Best Practices for Getting Great Writing Clients.
2. Post Your Writing Samples
If you have any writing samples you’ve done for nonprofit or other clients, include them on your website or in your portfolio.
And if you don’t have any samples, there’s nothing wrong with approaching a local nonprofit and offering to do a project for free just to get some experience.
This is what Keith Trimels did when he was first starting his writing career. He approached his local Boys and Girls Club and offered to write a fundraising letter for free, and they agreed. It worked out well — Keith’s letter helped them raise some needed funds, and Keith got a writing sample he could use in his portfolio.
For more ideas about building your writer’s portfolio, you can watch our free webinar How to Create a Winning Portfolio of Samples.
3. Reach Out to Prospects
You may already know specific nonprofit organizations you might want to work with, or perhaps even agencies that specialize in nonprofits.
If you don’t, it’s worth spending some time researching potential clients online to see what organizations you feel might be a good fit.
Once you have a few organizations or agencies in mind, write each one a short, personalized email telling them who you are and what you do.
Share one or two things you like about their organization, and how you could potentially help them with their marketing communications. You could ask if they’re planning to submit any grant proposals and offer your assistance. Another option is to write an example blog post for their site and send it to them.
Many successful freelance writers have gotten started with a simple email like this, and still continue to use email prospecting to find new clients.
4. Tell Everyone You Are a Writer!
Don’t hesitate to tell people that you’re a freelance writer for nonprofits whenever you get a chance.
Hand out your business cards, share your website, and invite others to connect with you on social media.
Even if the person you’re speaking to or connecting with isn’t part of a nonprofit, there’s a good chance they know someone involved in a nonprofit who might need your help.
Also consider joining your local chamber of commerce or other local groups related to either business, nonprofits, or other topics you’re interested in.
Have some fun as you network with others and get the word out about what you do. At the very least, you might make some new friends in the process.
Your Free Guide
Freelance writing for nonprofits can be an extremely rewarding and highly profitable opportunity for writers. The nonprofit industry is massive and has grown significantly over the past 10 years—by almost 20%.
More and more people are supporting causes they believe in, which means nonprofit organizations have an ongoing need for a wide range of different types of copy and content.
This is an exciting time to be a freelance writer for nonprofits.
And to help support writers who want to get started in this fast-growing industry, we’re giving away our self-study course Copywriting for a Cause: How to Profit as a Writer and Make a Difference in the World for a limited time.
This is our way of raising awareness of this often-underserved industry and giving writers the tools they need to help nonprofits continue their important work.
So get your free copy of the course here today, and start changing the world for the better!
Cause IQ: Directory of nonprofits, associations, foundations, and other organizations
RDK Group: Nonprofit conferences: Add these to your 2022 calendar
Article: 4 Abundant Marketing Buckets of Opportunity for Freelance Writers
Fundera: 9 Best Grants for Nonprofits in 2022
Sofii: Non-profit Marketing resources/cases
How to Make Money as a Social Media Marketing Expert
Writing Case Studies: How to Make a Great Living by Helping Clients Tell Their Stories
How to Write High Impact Emails
How to Write Engaging E-newsletters
How to Write Blogs for Yourself and Clients
The Digital Copywriter's Handbook
Access the Inside AWAI archives here.