Four reasons former nonprofit pros make great freelancers

While my career has spanned a few different sectors over the past decade, I have spent most of my time in nonprofits. In that arena, I have felt the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and through it all I’ve learned a ton. From my own experiences and from my interactions with talented colleagues across this space, I can confidently say that people who come from the nonprofit are uncommonly suited to the freelancing world. Here’s why.

We’re efficient.

Anyone who has made good things happen at a nonprofit knows how to turn a little into a lot. “Hustle” has become an almost meaningless buzzword, but in the nonprofit world, hustling is our standard M.O.

We often operate within tiny budgets with no room for extras, and still get amazing things done. Often, clients are looking for freelancers because of their own resource constraints (they need expertise or capacity but can’t hire someone on full-time), and nonprofit professionals can relate, adapt and–well (forgive me) hustle to make magic happen.

We’re courageous chameleons.


Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Unsplash

The “not my job” mentality that creeps into a lot of workplaces falls away out of necessity in the midst of a successful nonprofit project, and because of this, nonprofit professionals are among the scrappiest, most adaptable people I know.

Years ago, I was the junior member on a two-woman marketing team charged with the task of hosting a big wine tasting fundraiser on the eve of an even bigger, brand new music and wellness festival. From branding and getting people to show up, from permits to advertising to space planning, we were in charge of making it happen. It didn’t matter if I didn’t quite know how to do something, I had to figure it out.

In the weeks leading up to this weekend, despite all our preparations, I couldn’t help but wonder (and worry) how we’d manage to pull it off. My colleague, with several years of experience under her belt, was unruffled. She taught me the graceful art of eating the proverbial elephant.

To my amazement, everything went great. Our exhaustion was bone-deep by the end of the weekend, but we were triumphant. I will be forever grateful for that lesson in courage, because it was the first of many seemingly impossible tasks in my career.

We know how to measure results.

I think people in the for-profit sector often look at nonprofits (especially small ones) as lagging behind when it comes to things like metrics. Nonprofits have a reputation sometimes of being light on numbers.

The fact is, though, that funders want to know their return on investment, and consistent support hinges on being able to show what those funds means for a mission.

When you’re not in the business of making money, you have to get good at understanding your true impact. Successful nonprofit pros develop a critical eye for what’s working (or not), and how you can tell, and know how to communicate it in a way that resonates with supporters. This ability to SMART-ify objectives and then contextualize them, compellingly, make nonprofit pros savvy problem-solvers and great partners.


Photo by Marvin van Beek on Unsplash

We’re mission fueled (and we know how to fuel a mission).

Nonprofit professionals (at least the honest ones) aren’t in it to get rich. Sure, everyone works for a paycheck, but the nonprofit pros who find success and fulfillment in their work get behind the mission, and believe in it.

And because we ourselves believe in the work we do, we know how to spark that fire in other hearts.

Featured Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash


about me

Authenticity and freelancing

While it’s second nature for me to explore the strengths, opportunities and unique traits that help connect an organization and its people, it’s so much harder to turn that lens on myself.

This morning I took to Twitter to hash out the interplay of vulnerability, authenticity, motherhood and consulting. Let me know what you think.

In launching my own website and trying to see myself as a brand (yuck), it’s hard to figure out how vulnerable to be and how much of my personality to display.

In some ways, I need to see myself as my own client: What message are you trying to communicate? What will resonate with your intended audience?

In other ways, part of my vision for freelancing and career fulfillment in general is being vulnerable and authentic. I know I have valuable skills and talents that can make a difference for my clients, but I can’t sustain a Snapchat-filtered persona.

It’s a tough balance to strike when you’re trying to convince people to pay for your expertise: Why would you project anything but perfect competence?

The conclusion I’ve come to is that I only want to work with people who want to work with a human being.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that I only want to work with people who want to work with a human being.

That doesn’t mean I expect people to expect less of me. I intend to deliver on my commitments and help organizations achieve their goals.

But I’m not going to hide the fact that I’m still learning, that I’m tweeting while wrestling a baby down for a nap, that I’m perpetually tired and can’t keep up with laundry.

Because this is my reality. This is what my “having it all” looks like.

This is the hardest my life has ever been, and I’m really excited to be doing the work I’m doing.

Working with a working mom isn’t a gamble or an act of charity. It’s smart and it pays off.

I’ve seen what my fellow #workingmoms are doing and it’s not just “backwards and in heels.” It’s backwards and in heels with leaky boobs and 5 broken hours of sleep, but we are still doing amazing things.

So I’m not going to pretend it’s effortless. That would be a lie that serves no one but the people who want evidence that working moms don’t need more support.

You know the saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person”?

If you want a Big Something done, ask a busy person who has a vested interest in a better future.

By that, of course, I mean a mom.

Photo by Serhat Beyazkaya on Unsplash