Monday, July 21, 2014

How to Hire a Freelance Writer

One of these days, you might need to hire a freelance writer.

So much writing will require many pencils.
Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Dvortygirl 
Updating your blog. Writing the content for your new brochure. New thank you letters to your donors. Describing your internships on your website. Posting on Facebook. Getting the proposal together for the  McDuck Foundation.

That's a lot of writing you've got  there. Good thing you don't have any other job responsibilities. Oh, wait. You have things that aren't writing that you're also supposed to be doing?

Fortunately, there are people you can hire. Freelance writers like me, that you can smoothly hand your projects off to, and get on with all those other to-do list items.

But how do you hire a freelance writer? What questions should you ask? How can you tell if someone's a good fit for your organization?

I'm so glad you asked. The following is not the golden guideline of hiring a freelancer, it's just how I like to go about it.

1. Find a writer.
  • Ask around. It's good to know if a colleague or friend has recently worked with a good writer. You can get the inside scoop on how this person is to work with, something you can't tell from writing samples.
  • The Internet delivers yet again! Googling "Freelance Writer + your city" can yield promising results, as can checking out LinkedIn. 
2. Make contact.
  • Give the writer a call or send an email. Ask if they're taking new clients. If they are, hurray! Proceed. If they aren't, aw shucks!  Ask if they can refer you to another writer. 
  •  If the writer is available, describe your project briefly. Ask them to direct you to their online portfolio, or to send you some samples.
  • Just because we're wild and crazy (highly responsible) freelancers doesn't mean we don't have resumes and references. I've got 'em, you can ask for them.
  • You can ask for a rate. Some writers quote by an hourly rate. Others will need more details about the project, and will quote a flat fee.
3. Find a Match
Writing projects vary. Someone who is a technical writing genius may not be able to create a tagline. Someone who wrote a fantastic radio spot might not be the ideal person to write your grant proposal. Or maybe she is. Some writers are very versatile, others may specialize. Ask about this.

4. Review the Samples
When confronted with samples, you may feel out of your depth. Behold, the following cheater ways to judge a piece of writing.
Ask yourself:
  1. What is this about? (If you can't tell, it's already not a good sample.)
  2. What does it want me to do? (Give money, volunteer, stop buying palm oil?)
  3. Do I want to do that thing? Why or why not? (Does this piece turn you off? Does it make you want to start buying palm oil, just to get your revenge upon this piece of writing? This is a clue that you may not mesh well with this writer, at the very least, and that they may not be any good at the worst).
  4. Who is the audience? 
  5. Do I think this piece speaks to that audience? (Copy aimed at children shouldn't use giant words. Copy aimed at senior citizens probably shouldn't rely on profanity for comedic effect.) 
5. Chat with the Writer

If you've reviewed the sample and are ready to go ahead, it's time to get back in touch with the writer. Let them know you want to hire them. Things you should discuss from this point are:
  • Timelines.
  • Budget.
  • Your goals for the piece of writing. 
  • The mission of your organization, and how this piece figures in.
  • The way you want to stay in touch, and how often you want to talk.
  • Contracts.
 6. Say you want to hire them, and then say it again in writing.

Voila! You've hired a freelance writer.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Facts and Figures: Your Appeal to Reason

If you're making a claim ("We save the world!") you need to supply some evidence. Some actual facts. Something that isn't up to interpretation.

A lot of us didn't get into the nonprofit sector because we're terribly excited about numbers, let's be real. It's a sector dominated by people who are really into social services, social science, social justice, all that good, squishy save the world business.

As you saw in my posts about the appeal to emotion, squishy can be a good thing. Writing that provides good touchy-feely-warm feelings connects with your reader. But remember, man does not take action by squish alone.

In addition to providing an emotional experience, you also need to give your supporters some...reasons. Actual reasons. Why should they give to you? Why is handing over their money to you a good idea, and not a great big waste? What, exactly, are you doing with it?

This is where your facts come in. Talk about how many people you serve, the stats on the impact you've made, and the reality of the problems you're facing. Explain just what it is you do, and why it's necessary to do it. Supply evidence. Crunch some numbers.

This doesn't have to be boring, and with some stylistic skill, it doesn't even have to be jarring. Take a look at these infographics...a sneaky way to lay some serious facts down on your audience.

What do you think is the most compelling fact about your organization?
Look at all these facts, so charmingly displayed.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Not THAT Many Violins! When Pathos Goes Awry

In my last post, I talked about appealing to emotion in your nonprofit communications. I briefly mentioned that while emotion is necessary, it is also dangerous. 

While tugging at heart strings is all well and good, too much of a yank can actually work against you. So today I'm writing about the dangers within pathos.

Objects in Our Materials May Appear Larger Than They Actually Are

A heart-warming story doesn’t have to be grand in scale. It could just be a really nice thing you were able to do for your clients. Things that are sad don’t have to be made tragic. Things that are great don’t have to be made the greatest. Don’t downplay the impact of your actions, but don’t inflate them either. It gives the readers the sense that you’re manipulating their emotions, and makes you appear untrustworthy.

I Wouldn't Refer to Myself as "Devastated" Would You?

A good general rule is always assume your clients will read everything you write about them. People who have no problem talking about how your organization changed their lives may not take too kindly to being referred to in ways that make them seem pitiful or pathetic. They are not a prop in your story--it’s a story the organization and the client share. The easiest way to avoid offending clients is by letting them tell the story themselves. ‘“I felt like there was no hope,” said Amy’ packs a punch, while "Amy was absolutely hopeless" may feel like a punch in the gut to Amy herself.

All of the Feels, None of the Facts

You can't leave out facts and authority--people need more than emotional reasons to get involved with your organization or make a gift. People can have an emotional response to a communications piece without taking any action. They feel the feelings, and move on. Without concrete reasons to give, volunteer, or do something, feelings are just feelings.

Even if a one-time hit in the emotions does result in one time action, if you're looking to build a relationship you're also going to have to prove you're trustworthy, responsible, effective and strategic. 

 Have you ever felt your heart strings got pulled on too hard? How did you respond?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Graham Crackers and Feelings: The Appeal to Pathos

What do graham crackers have to do with love? Maybe not much, all by themselves. But Honeymaid, a company that makes this favorite snack of kindergartners across the nation, recently pulled off a darn fine appeal to emotion. (It’s also a powerful use of visuals, but more on that another time).

If you haven’t had a chance to see the video yet, here’s the scoop: Honeymaid made a commerical which featured all kinds of families. The campaign, “This is Wholesome” made a lot of people happy, and some other people very angry, because it included same-sex couples, among other families. Reactions were strong. Honeymaid received a lot of comments, but transformed them into a broader expression of love that certainly transcends graham crackers.

The commercial works because it tells a real story with an emotional component, features a change, and has a positive, hopeful outlook.

Commercial advertisers are not the only folks dealing in emotions.Emotions are a powerful part of explaining what a nonprofit does. Making people think is good, but making people feel is what makes them really start to care about your work.

In rhetorical terms, convincing someone to do things based on their feelings is known as the appeal to pathos. When you do it right, it’s highly effective--your audience feels good about your organization, and concerned by the problems you’re addressing.  

Emotional storytelling can:
  • make people care about what you do
  • demonstrate the “real-life” impact of your work
  • make you memorable

Find the Story
Honeymaid has a clear story--they made a commercial, people responded, lots of people hated it, but even more loved it. We could sum up the story they’re telling with: love is greater than hate. 
Human beings love stories. We can’t help it. We’ve been telling stories pretty much since the dawn of time, and each time we create a new medium for communication we use it to tell stories. 

A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should have a central character the audience can identify with. Something needs to happen in a story--usually a change. 

Find the Feelings
It’s a lot easier to tell a story with emotion if the story has some emotional element. Luckily, most human stories do. Clues for identifying a story with emotional punch include:
  • Was an injustice righted?
    Thanks to our housing counselors, Anna and her children were able to stay in their home.
  • Was there a change because of a specific action?
    Before he joined our after-school program, Tim spent his afternoons throwing rocks through windows. Now he paints murals and builds mosaics all over the neighborhood. “I like making stuff more than breaking stuff,” says Tim.
  • Was there an emotional change because of a specific action?
    "Before I saw a legal aide, I felt powerless and trapped. Now, I feel like I’m the person in control of my life.”
  • Did something extraordinary happen?
    Honeymaid received 10x more positive responses to their commercial than negative responses. And they also had some artists make a giant paper sculpture out of them, which isn't an everyday thing.
  • Is something super adorable?
    Pictures from our annual Puppy and Toddler dance contest now on our website!
Find the Hope.
Honeymaid encountered intense negative feelings, but the story they’re telling is about love. They changed the story into a positive one.

Nonprofits solve problems. Whether you provide services for the underserved, improve your community with art or help the environment, a nonprofit exists to do something.  Something that wouldn’t get done without the organization. That means that building the case to support your organization often means writing about things that are actually really sad. Poverty. Neglect. Great big problems in society. Dead kittens. Things can get kind of bleak.

It doesn’t help to tell a heart-wrenching story if all it does is wrench hearts. You must provide some hope to the reader--how are you fixing the problem? How can they help? How did your services change the life of the subject of the story?

With Great Power... 
Of course, you can go too far with emotional storytelling. If you leave out our good friends logos and ethos, your communication can fall apart. But that's for another day.

Which emotional appeals work for you? Seen any good uses of the appeal to pathos executed by nonprofits lately?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How to Get Your Message to Your Audience: The Rhetorical Triangle and You

What with social media, the rise of mobile, and shorter attention spans than ever, when you think “content strategy quandary" you’re probably not thinking the answer is Aristotle.

But it probably is.

Writers have been writing about writing for awhile now, and some of the best wisdom turns out to be some of the oldest, in this case, from Aristotle's Rhetoric. Hey--if it’s been working this long, might as well get it to work for you, right?

One of the oldest ways of describing communication is ye olde rhetorical triangle. It’s a simple, graphic way to understand what happens when we talk or write.

We’ve got three things happening in communication--a speaker speaking, an audience receiving, and a message being transmitted. Behold, how we arrange them in a triangle.

Any part can be on any point of the triangle, as far as I’m concerned--in fact, that’s the point. Each point is equally important. Without each part, communication isn’t happening.

Hold onto your hat, things are about to get all Aristotelian up in here.

There are three main ways to get your message from you, speaker, to your audience: appeals to logos, ethos, and pathos.

Ethos--This is the argument you make based You’re such a great person. You’ve been at this a long time. You know what you’re doing. An argument of ethos is based on your character as a credible source.

Logos--Just the facts, ma’mm. Logos is the argument you make based on facts, statistics, rational thinking and logic. Your prices are lower. You’re the top-ranked company in your city. Look at the results of your independent audit, your survey, your pie chart. Ye gods, the pie charts.

Pathos--You know those animal rescue ads with Sarah McLaughlin and incredibly sad animals? (Click here, if you feel like getting your heart ripped out). That, my friend, is an appeal to emotion, aka pathos. You reach into your audience with your heart-warming or bone-chilling story, and they can’t help but be on your side. AKA: giving your audience all the feels.

The communications projects you create for your business or organization may lean more heavily on part of the triangle than on others. If you’re Save the Children, you’re probably going to make a more emotional argument than, say, a software company. But most good communication pieces take a little bit from each point, creating a balanced appeal to reason, credibility, and emotions. 

Which appeal do you find the hardest?