The first article in our series on finding freelancers and volunteers explores the pros and cons of out-of-house professionals and the most important things charities need to consider
Using freelancers or volunteers is a great way to tap into a wealth of expertise and talent. And they’re on the rise, with the number of freelance workers expected to increase to more than half of the total US workforce by 2027, with similar numbers in the UK.
In this article, we look at the pros and cons of using freelancers and volunteers. We also offer charities some advice on how to get started.
Charities and not-for-profits are having budgets squeezed, especially as we (hopefully) ease out of the pandemic. Coupled with that, many charities have had to make redundancies, cutting the expertise and skills-base within their in-house teams.
Hiring a freelancer means paying for exactly what you need – without needing to pay for sick leave, holiday pay, or pension contributions. And there’s no paying for ‘sitting around’ time, unlike the potential peaks and troughs of permanent colleagues’ workloads.
Sometimes you may need specific experience for a one-off project. For example, you might be setting up new social media reporting and need someone with those skills to come in and establish new processes, then pass them over to the in-house team to maintain. Hiring a freelancer gives you access to that expertise, but only for the time you actually need them.
Having a pool of freelancers to call on can be a huge benefit when smoothing out workloads. When teams are overstretched, having an extra pair of reliable hands in the short-term can help make sure deadlines are hit and targets met.
It’s easy to underestimate how long a job will take, which is why giving a clear brief and having regular and honest conversations is essential at the start of a contract. It’s also useful to have a cost bracket from the start, so there’s some wiggle room depending on how long the job actually takes.
While freelancers are professionals in their own fields, they won’t know your charity as well as you do. Give them access to branding documents, tone of voice guidance, background information about the charity and its goals and, depending on the job in hand, carve out a few hours for them to get to grips with the information. It’ll be money well spent in the long run.
With remote working in particular, it can be easy for communication to get clunky – especially if you’re under time pressures yourself, or rushing in and out of meetings. Depending on the job, having a regular check-in with the freelancer can be helpful for both parties or, if the project has a tight turnaround, make sure that there’s someone on the team who can answer questions that might otherwise hold them up.
When working with colleagues long-term, you build trust. With short-contract freelancers, there’s no time to build that relationship, so doing your homework before hiring them is key. Get hold of a reference or two, talk to two or three freelancers – and then trust your instincts on who is the best fit.
With the government’s introduction of IR35 in April 2021 there are certain rules that larger charities need to be aware of when hiring contractors. We talk about this more in our article on finding freelance designers.
There are two main reasons that you may need a freelancer: to bring in specific expertise for a particular project or to help with your team’s workload in the short-term.
It might be that you need help with a particular project that needs specific experience or skills that sit outside your existing team. For example, you might need someone to help develop new collateral or create an advertising campaign.
Or it might be that your current team is working up-to-the-limit and you need an extra pair of hands on a short-term basis to help get through the current workload. So you might need someone to come in for a few weeks to take over writing press releases, responding to user queries, or babysitting your Twitter account.
For either situation, it’s crucial that you clarify exactly what you need. In marketing, for example, there are many potential sub-sets of skills including: strategy, branding, social media, marketing campaigns, SEO, copywriting, design, communications. Focus in on exactly which skills you need for the job to make it easier for you to select the right person.
You’ll also need to be crystal clear about how long the job might take and scheduling expectations for the project. Freelancers often juggle other jobs, so being clear with them about timelines potentially slipping, for example, will mean they’ll have a clear idea of whether your project will fit in with their existing work commitments – avoiding any awkward conversations further down the line.
Having clarity around both experience and timings will not only make it easier for you to select the right freelancer for the job, but also make for a good start in your working relationship with them.
Now you know what you’re looking for, how do you find the right person and the best talent? Personal recommendations are a great way to start – through team members, old colleagues, or networking groups.
Nothing is more powerful than a word-of-mouth recommendation – no-one wants to be responsible for suggesting an unreliable freelancer. You could also post your request on LinkedIn or with any networking groups you belong to.
Your next port of call is some of the many freelancer directories or jobs platforms. For freelancers try CharityComms (which has a directory of its freelance members – who all specialise in charities and not-for-profits), Work for Impact (which connects organisations with freelancers), Blume (which specialises in freelancers experienced in charity work) and People per hour (which has a sub-section for those with charity experience).
Or you may like to work with a volunteer. The obvious benefit to working with a volunteer is cost saving – but it does mean you’re relying on people’s goodwill to fulfil a project.