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How To Make It as a Freelancer in the Social-Impact Sector

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Making the decision to work as a freelancer in the social-impact sector involves plenty of research and planning. Whether you’re just starting your career journey, switching sectors, or considering a side-gig, freelancing takes commitment and dedication.

That said, lending your skills to a mission you care about can be extremely rewarding—and having the chance to work with several nonprofits makes it even more so! You may also find the flexible work schedule beneficial as you build your client list and reputation.

To explore whether freelancing in the social-impact sector may be right for you, we’ve put together a few tips for building a freelance career from the ground up.

How to find clients in the social-impact sector

Finding gigs is a struggle that 37% of freelancers admit to having. If you are starting straight out of college or switching careers, gaining experience and creating a body of work is the first step to finding future, paid clients. Here are some tips for how to jump in, and build up your clientele: 

  • Consider offering services for barter, or at a reduced rate. Other freelancers understand the need to secure work experience and may be interested in swapping services to benefit you both. By lending your skills to someone who can provide accounting assistance or design your website, you can quickly gather honest testimonials of your work to share with future, paid clients, while building your freelancer brand.
  • Reach out to your network. If you’re a seasoned professional, tell former colleagues and employers about your newfound career trajectory. Since these connections already have experience working with you, your name should be top of mind when relevant freelance projects come up.
  • Keep an eye on social media. Smaller organizations will often share employment opportunities online to appeal to their most engaged users who are already familiar with their mission.
  • Share samples of previous work. By creating a website or blog, you can easily share examples of former projects with potential clients, highlight the mission areas you care about, and create content as part of your outreach. Including a pop of color or engaging photographs can quickly elevate your brand to help you stand out in a crowded market.
  • Search freelance or part-time roles on Idealist. While some online directories cover a wide range of industries, Idealist only lists opportunities that relate to social impact—allowing you to reduce the noise of busy marketplaces and find relevant organizations and roles. You can search for roles by your particular field and filter for full-time, part-time, temporary, and contract positions.

Determine what your skills are worth

Providing services for a lower fee is a short-term solution while establishing yourself, but once you have enough experience, start charging fees that are representative of your skills. For example, 91% of freelance writers make less than $30k in their first year, but as your experience increases, your rates should, too.

A good strategy to determine what to charge is asking fellow freelancers what they are earning. Reach out to your network to find out how others determine rates, and how it lines up with their technical skills or years of experience.

Tools like Idealist Salaries can help you figure out what professionals in a similar line of work are earning at nonprofit organizations across the US, which may help you determine what base salary you aspire to. The Fiverr profiles of other freelancers can also be a great resource, as people will often list the rates they charge for projects.

Even for established freelancers, there will be times when there is a lot to do and times when work slows down. When this happens, don’t despair! Be realistic about your financial needs and plan for gaps between projects; that way, you can make sure that you’re still able to support yourself.

Build your network and maintain relationships

A large part of being a successful freelancer in any sector is your ability to build positive relationships with former and future clients. Today, it’s possible to build networks remotely, thanks to professional groups like the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN), Ladies Get Paid, and Out in Tech.

It’s also beneficial to network with other freelancers, particularly if your jobs involve working with others. You can lean on each other to find new clients or seek recommendations, as well as share projects when you need additional support.

The more connections you build, the more consistent your workflow—that’s because your clients are often your best advocates and are likely to rehire you for future projects, or share your contact information with other organizations. Word of mouth and having someone vouch for the work that you do is a great signal of trust.

As you search for roles that are a good match for your skills, consider branching out of your usual workflow to explore new interests or mission areas. In doing so, you’ll be able to amplify the impact of your work within the sector and help more organizations achieve their goals.


If being a freelance writer is your ultimate goal, check out our blog post, Strategies for Starting Off as a Freelance Writer.

About The Author | Dakota Murphy is a Brighton-based writer specializing in business, marketing, and human resources. She has over 15 years’ experience writing for magazines, news outlets, and local companies, and is a full-time mum to two amazing boys.

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