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Is the Non-Profit Niche for Copywriting All It's Cracked Up to Be?

Aug 17, 2007
Since 2003 I've helped many new copywriters select the niche that's right for them, and those niches have been strong and varied.

Nutraceuticals is big, and so is financial; technology is popular, as well the technology sub-niches of software, hardware, and to a much lesser degree, telecom.

In addition to the more obvious markets I have copywriters specializing in the human potential industry, the seniors market, marketing communications (marcom), publishing, the government, white papers, veterinary, insurance, global markets, and more.

As a niching expert, I know there are dozens of niches open to the freelance copywriter, but the one that has continually stumped me...the one I haven't been able to safely recommend...is non-profit.

Although I've written for non-profit a number of times throughout my agency and freelance career, the pay was paltry (or none), and few of my colleagues had much to say about the niche.

Yet there are those who sing its praises. And many copywriters are drawn to the niche, energized by the idea of doing good and getting paid for it.

After four years it had become apparent to me that the only way I'd be able to recommend this niche, or not, was to do a formal study. So I did.

I wanted to answer some basic questions:

* Can you really earn six figures or more in this niche?

* If so, how long will it take?

* What recommendations would those working in the niche pass down to newcomers?

* What pitfalls await the unsuspecting?

* How would one go about creating a successful career in this niche?

In order to get reliable information, I identified five non-profit copywriters who would represent a healthy cross-section...everyone from the "dean" of non-profit himself to a newcomer who'd recently found success in this niche.

I interviewed each of the copywriters with the express purpose of learning the truth about working in this niche; and each knew the purpose of this report was "truth" over sales; that his or her response would influence the course of copywriters' careers for years to come.

I wanted to know the good and the bad, the pearls and the warts! And my interviewees gave me both, with generosity, honesty, and candor.

In addition I sponsored a survey of non-profit copywriters, who revealed their incomes, their niche markets, and shared a flood of passionate and cautionary advice about working in this niche. Between the interviews and the survey, a clear picture began to emerge...

A picture that looks something like a map of the United States...one whole homogonous entity made up of numerous smaller entities...revealing a very strong but complicated market!

Some of the findings:

* You don't go to a non-profit and say, "I'm a great copywriter. I write killer copy." You have to be a specialist to grow a thriving business.

* There is a significant difference between non-profits and fundraisers, and knowing the difference is fundamental to your career as a non-profit/fundraising copywriter.

* Non-profits split out into three groups: advocacy (caused-based organizations such as Greenpeace); charity (such as the Christian Children's Fund); and political (Democratic National Committee).

* Copywriters can specialize by the kind of funding they help organizations raise, e.g., a government grants, giving from wills and estates, and capital campaigns (such as helping a hospital add a new wing).

* Some non-profit copywriters specialize by media: letters only, or grant writing only, or online only...direct mail, radio, and so on.

* You can get a lot of business just from your web site if you correctly optimize your keywords (according to your specialty).

* Creating an ezine is a particularly effective marketing tool for this market.

* Two of the biggest non-profits are universities and hospitals. (One could sub-niche into either of these huge markets.)

* Non-profit is a huge niche market and accounts for 2 percent of the Gross National Product. What's more, it's a growing market but it will need copywriters in the future even more than it does now.

That's because, according to non-profit copywriter Alan Sharpe, the new generation did not grow up in a culture of giving, so its going to be more challenging for non-profits to gain the funds they need.

Says Alan: "...the parents of baby boomers are the last generation to give out of habit...my parents' parents and your parents' parents...they were basically raised to give...

"And that's not true today. You've got 15-year-olds, 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds... You can approach a 20-year-old and ask them for a donation for Hurricane Katrina and they'll say, 'Well, how are you going to use it? How can I be sure? Can you email me photographs of my donation at work?'"

So as non-profits find it more and more challenging to collect funds, they will find talented freelance copywriters more valuable to their marketing initiatives.

Other finding on this niche include:

* Survey evidence that copywriters can earn $100,000 per year and more...but that the majority earn much less

* The non-profit sector has doubled since the early '90s, and according to non-profit guru Mal Warwick, "continues to grow faster than the economy."

* 65 percent of surveyed non-profit copywriters believe non-profit will be a good niche for copywriters in the foreseeable future

* Only 23 percent of surveyed non-profit copywriters felt there was a high level of competition in the space

"ChrisNotes: The Truth about copywriting for non-profits" offers six months of research and analysis, 78 pages of survey data (16 questions posed to 54 participants), interviews with successful non-profit copywriters, including the "dean" of non-profit copywriting Jerry Huntsinger, and today's reigning guru, Mal Warwick; and analysis and commentary by myself, copywriter's coach Chris Marlow.

"ChrisNotes: The Truth about copywriting for non-profits" is designed to help freelance copywriters determine if non-profit is a good niche for them...one that will fill them up emotionally, financially, and perhaps even spiritually...or not.

A niching mistake can be a critical mistake, and can even destroy a fledgling career. It takes time and money to build a business. Knowing with certainty that your chosen niche is the right fit is the first step to business success.
About the Author
Learn more about the non-profit niche for copywriters at:
Chris MarlowPO Box 1134, Palm Desert, CA, 92261P: 760-340-2045chris@chrismarlow.com Chris Marlow, all rights reserved
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