The fundraising industry is blessed with a lot of top-notch freelancers. You can outsource all kinds of things, from copywriting, to design, to project management, analytics, strategy, and more.
Outsourcing is a great solution for many fundraisers. It’s a way to get the best work at a good price, and keep yourself and your colleagues focused on the things they do best — many of which are not really “outsourceable.”
But sometimes engaging a freelancer doesn’t work out well. You can end up further behind and more frustrated — even after spending good money on the project.
I’ve worked on both sides of this equation, both as a freelancer, and as a frequent hirer of freelance help. I’ve discovered some things you can do that really increase the chance you’ll get what you need at the right price — and have a good experience along the way:
Set clear expectations
This is the most important thing you must do. Lack of clear expectations is the most common cause of things going wrong with freelancers. It’s an easy mistake, because we all have assumptions about things that a freelancer likely doesn’t know about.
Don’t assume anything about the job you want them to do. If it’s a direct mail appeal, make sure they know if they’re writing all the elements, and what those elements are. Agree on what the specs are going to be. If there’s a story involved, are you expecting them to do the interviewing or research? Are there related emails, social posts, or other elements you typically require? Thank-you letter? All that may be obvious to you, but it differs widely. Be clear and detailed about the scope of the project — and put it in writing.
Also, be extra clear about the offer of the fundraising message. What are you asking the donor to do? A solid freelancer will help you arrive at that if you don’t have it nailed down, but in any case … put it in writing!
It’s okay to initiate a project without all the details and to ask your freelancer to help you figure things out. But get it in writing as early as possible.
Agree on the deadline
This is part of the category above, but it’s often forgotten. The time-frame may be obvious to you. It’s not obvious to your freelancer. Put all deadlines in writing! (And then hold them to it. Freelancers who miss deadlines are breaking one of the most important rules of freelancing.)
Your freelancer is not just a pair of hands to type out a project you don’t have time to type out. They are a mind. Their value to you is that they bring information and experience you don’t have. They have a duty to you to help take you to new places and help you raise more money.
I don’t know any freelancer who is willing to spew out work they know is destined to fail because it’s a poor strategy. To them that’s a frustrating waste of time and potentially damaging to their brand. Let your freelancer dig into your strategy and even challenge your assumptions. In fact, insist on it. That’s where you really get your money’s worth! If they don’t take a look at your strategy, they might not be as good as you need them to be!
Some freelancers have a “no changes” policy about their work. The really good ones have a flexible no changes policy. If you need something to be different from the way they do it, a good freelancer will be all ears about what and why. Which leads me to …
Make sure they listen
A good freelancer listens to you. No matter how much they know, there are large areas about your work that you know far better. A decent freelancer knows this and approaches every project with a proper level of humility. A freelancer who knows all the answers without asking you any questions is probably not someone you should work with.
You have every right to know why a freelancer does something. They need to be able to defend their work, and you have the right to learn as much as possible from your freelancer. They should be open to questions.
Be willing to defend their work
You can do all the above stuff exactly right, and then have your project flushed down the toilet by a boss or board member who thinks they know better. It happens all the time, and it’s one of the most common reasons freelancers choose not to keep working with an otherwise well-suited client. This often takes everyone by surprise, so it might be best to inoculate your authority figures with the fact that you’re bringing in outside expertise that may be different from what they’re used to.
Life’s too short for unpleasant working situations. Be human and fun and treat your freelancer well. Insist on the same from them. If working with someone is unpleasant, just don’t do it!
If for whatever reason you choose not to keep working with a freelancer (unless it was a one-time-only project from the outset) don’t ghost them. Let them know. You don’t owe them a detailed performance review or post-mortem, but you do owe them common courtesy to say what’s going on.
Don’t ask for pro bono work
That’s right, don’t even ask. It’s just creates a super-awkward situation.
Every freelancer I know does pro-bono work, and they might even do it for you. But remember, this is their job, not their hobby. They need to charge their clients for their time and talents, or the whole deal falls apart for them.
And the common “do it for the exposure” argument doesn’t hold water. Believe me: “He’ll work for you for free” is not the kind of exposure any freelancer wants.
A talented freelancer is worth every penny they cost you. If they aren’t, something is wrong.
Remember, this work is the freelancer’s job. Their billings are what pays their mortgage — and everything else. If they have to wait for weeks to get the money owed them, you may be significantly complicating their life. And if they have to repeatedly chase down “lost” invoices, that’s time they are spending not doing their real work.
“Getting them to pay is like pulling teeth” is not the kind of exposure among freelancers you want!
There are a lot of truly excellent freelancers available. They can be an important part of transforming your revenue and the way you work. Consider working with them — and follow these steps for your best chance of success!
Next week, we’ll look at the other side of freelancing: How to succeed as a freelancer in fundraising.
Want help knowing what your next steps should be — whether you do it yourself or outsource it? Find your way forward by scheduling a free 25-minute call with one of our Fundraisingologists. They will give you great free advice, and help you identify which Coaching+ program might be right for you. Click here to book your call.
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Great article. As a fundraiser for many years turned freelancer, I can attest to this being super accurate and helpful for both sides.