When creating proposals for clients and implementing the work you’ve been hired to do, you’ll most often be working with one of these four types of people within a nonprofit:
Executive Director. The CEO of a nonprofit is usually called the Executive Director (ED). At smaller nonprofits, EDs are often forced by lack of resources to do it all, and will contract out work to freelancers. In small nonprofits, often the ED’s administrative assistant gets stuck doing the newsletter, updating the website, etc. so you may be working with that person as well. Every nonprofit has an executive director, even if that’s not the title they use.
Development Director. Development directors are in charge of fundraising for an organization and are often responsible for other communications work as well, including donor relations pieces like newsletters. Not all nonprofits have development directors; in fact most small nonprofits don’t have one. Instead, fundraising tasks fall to the executive director and program staff. If you are a freelancer writer hired by a development director, you will either be writing fundraising appeals where you are explicitly asking for funding or other support, or you’ll be writing what are sometimes called donor stewardship communications, like progress reports, annual report, newsletters, etc.
Communications Director. Communications directors are usually responsible for everything that would fall under marketing, communications, media relations, PR, outreach or public education. They aren’t typically responsible for fundraising (otherwise they’d be called the development director), but they are often responsible for working closely with the fundraisers. Some communications directors are more closely aligned with program staff, especially if the nonprofit’s mission requires lots of public outreach or education. If a nonprofit hosts events, the communications director is often responsible for marketing those events. Communications directors are often responsible for newsletters (print and/or email), website content, social media profiles, etc.
Program Directors and Staff. These people are in charge of operating the programs that implement the mission of the organization. They are the ones “doing the work.” Program directors often hire freelance writers because (1) they don’t have communications staff or (2) the communications staff are too busy with communications for the nonprofit overall to help any one specific program person. Program staff will often hire freelancers to help with “deliverables” for grants, such as how-to guides or special reports, or to help drum up participants for their programs, which can be clients (the people served) or volunteers (the people serving).
Of course, every nonprofit is different, but with these job descriptions in mind, you can ask intelligent questions about who does what at your client’s organization.