I have to say that I am really pretty sick of talking about nonprofit annual reports.
But every year, I pump myself up to talk about them again in December/January and June/July when nonprofits are panicky about producing them.
Because it’s a huge pain point for nonprofit communicators, and they are our clients.
One of my very first websites and training programs a zillion years ago when the Internet was still a drooling baby was dedicated to nonprofit annual reports precisely for that reason.
I registered NonprofitAnnualReports.net in February 2006 (like I said, a zillion years ago). Someone else had the .com at that point, but I got it shortly thereafter when they let it expire.
My online revenue on that topic alone convinced me that maybe I really could do a whole online business around nonprofit communications in general and write a book about it.
And I have certainly moved on to much more sophisticated and much more interesting topics since 2006.
But here’s the thing: There are just as many nonprofits struggling to do their very first annual report now as there were then, and probably more (I have the Google Analytics to prove it). And they need help too.
So guess what . . . We provide some basic nonprofit annual report tips on our website. I still update the webinar deck every six months.
It’s OK to move on to the more advanced, more intellectually stimulating stuff. But don’t leave your clients too far behind.
I’m not going to name names, but I’ve seen a few top consultants and authors get too far removed for the people who brought them to the dance, and now they are back to being wall flowers in their fancy esoteric niches, and borderline broke.
Pace yourself, based on where the majority of your client base really is.
Working with nonprofit clients has tons of benefits. But let’s be honest . . . it’s not all sweetness. In honor of Halloween, let’s look at those Clients from Hell.
In our survey earlier this year, we asked nonprofit consultants and freelancers about some of their worst experiences with nonprofit clients. Here’s a sampling of what we heard:
They were indecisive, unaware that they were disrespectful, incapable of follow-through, and rarely followed directions. And they didn’t pay their bills.
I felt like I was talking to a brick wall – no response or abrupt responses to communications.
I was hired to advise, then challenged at every turn. They didn’t follow through and then blamed us when they got no results.
They treated me like an employee, changed payment plans, etc.
They didn’t tell me until I’d already put in some work on a project that technically they couldn’t pay me due to government rules.
The executive director actually said, “We’re just doing this because of the board president. We’ll never use this, I don’t think we need it.”
They wanted to make everyone happy. So they allowed people to break rules, miss deadlines, have extra benefits rather than tell someone “no'” and pushed deadlines and workplans out the window.
How about you? What’s your “Client from Hell” story? Share in the comments!
About 100 nonprofits have taken our recent survey on working with consultants and freelancers, and here’s what they said about what they are looking for when evaluating you as a service provider.
What’s most important is subject area expertise or knowledge, direct experience with the specific type of project, and personality compatibility. Price, references, and direct experience with similar nonprofits are second tier considerations.
How might this change how you market your services to nonprofits? Share your thoughts, or any other reactions to this data, in the comments. Would love to hear what you think!
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.
Understanding the daily struggles of nonprofit professionals, and having some empathy for them, is essential to building a client base.
On my blog at Nonprofit Marketing Guide, we run a series called “Day in the Life”, where more than 30 nonprofit communications professionals (to date) have shared hourly accounts of their typical work days.
Read through some of these profiles, and then try to answer some of these questions . . .
What struggles do you see in common? How could you as a freelancer or consultant help with those struggles?
What limitations are they working under? How would that potentially affect their work with you?
Where can you be most helpful to professionals like those profiled?