Working with freelancers

Photo credit: IntelFreePress via / CC BY

Many community groups and small nonprofits are operating on very tight budgets and are forced to do a lot of the day-to-day work themselves. But every now and again you’ll probably find yourself in a situation where you need to hire a professional to help you.

If you decide that you need to hire a professional writer, editor, designer or photographer, the chances are they’ll be a freelancer. They may be working as a sole trader or as a limited liability company, but either way you’ll be engaging a small business.

So how do you go about finding a freelance professional?

  • Word of mouth. Most freelancers get at least some, if not the majority, of their work through word of mouth, so start by asking around. Like tradespeople, a good freelancer will get recommended.
  • Industry bodies. Industry bodies, such as your local Society of Editors (or equivalent), usually have freelance registers. Going through an industry body will ensure the person you hire has the necessary training and experience.
  • E-work sites. Many ‘e-work’ sites have popped up in recent years. Just a word of warning—you get what you pay for. You may find that you can get your work done cheaply through these sites, but this will often come at the cost of quality. If you’re not prepared to offer a fair price, you’ll find that highly skilled professionals won’t respond to your ad. In fact, many established freelancers don’t use these sites as they already get enough work through other means. These sites also run on commission, meaning that, unlike hiring a freelancer directly, not all your fee will go to the person who does the work.

Working with freelancers

Before you start working with a freelancer, there are a few things to bear in mind that will help keep the relationship running smoothly.

  • Don’t ever ask a freelancer to work for ‘exposure’. Would you ask your local restaurant to give you your meal for free in exchange for ‘exposure’? No? Then why would you ask it of a creative professional? By doing this you also risk developing a reputation as a time-waster client—established freelancers won’t work with you and they’ll tell their networks. And apart from anything else, it’s just plain exploitative.
  • Freelancers are small businesses. This means they have to cover the costs of everything usually borne by employers, such as tax and retirement fund payments, out of the fees they charge. So while a quote might seem high to you, remember that anywhere up to 50 per cent of it (depending on the freelancer’s financial arrangements) goes straight to the government. It also means that time is money, so don’t ask for a face-to-face meeting unless you’re prepared to have travel time built into the quote. Go for email, phone or Skype instead.
  • Have a realistic budget. You get what you pay for, and what you’re paying for is the years of experience that established freelancers have behind them. The cost will vary according to the size of your project, the market in your location and the turnaround time, but it’s safe to say that $50 or $100 won’t cut it unless the job is very small.
  • Know what you want and write it down clearly. Freelancers of all stripes do their best work when they’re properly briefed. The quote you receive should outline the scope of the project, and for anything beyond that you may be charged extra. So knowing what you want will help you avoid ‘scope creep’ and will save you money.
  • Give them plenty of time. Rush jobs are always more expensive. Also, many experienced freelancers are booked up weeks or months in advance, so do some planning and enquire early.
  • Make sure you understand and adhere to the terms and conditions. Many freelancers will have terms and conditions listed that you agree to by accepting a quote. Make sure you understand and adhere to these—especially regarding payment and intellectual property—and if you don’t like them, don’t accept the quote. Some freelancers may also get you to sign a contract, depending on their business and the size of your project.
  • Pay on time. This is huge. Many established freelancers ask for full or partial upfront payment, and this is done for a very good reason—many clients don’t pay on time and freelancers have to pay their bills in the meantime. You are responsible for your organisation’s cash flow, not the freelancer, so if you don’t have the money to hire someone, don’t. You may be charged late fees if you fail to pay within the terms of the invoice, or in extreme cases you may be referred to a debt collection agency. In addition, many freelancers—especially graphic designers and photographers—won’t release the final product to you until the final payment has been received, and if you use the product without paying for it under these circumstances you’re violating their intellectual property and could leave yourself open to legal action. So make everyone’s lives easier and pay on time.
  • Be flexible and easy to work with. All freelancers get the occasional client from hell, and they usually only work with them once. Don’t be that person. This means keeping communication open and recognising that the freelancer will probably need to fit you around other projects, so stick to agreed deadlines and keep your expectations reasonable.

Rapid changes to the workforce mean that more and more people are choosing to work for themselves. A good relationship with a freelancer can be of enormous benefit to your organisation, and a relatively small investment in something like professional graphic design can have huge payoffs in terms of your organisation’s professionalism and ability to reach its audience. And, as I never tire of saying, a little planning goes a long way!

Useful Tools: Facebook ads

Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on Facebook advertising. 

What is it?

Over the last two years, Facebook has been positioning itself as a ‘pay-to-play’ platform, meaning that businesses and organisations now need to advertise in order to reach substantial numbers of people (including, controversially, their own followers, whose loyalty they have arguably already earned through unpaid means). Facebook ads usually contain a graphic or video plus some text explaining the ad. You can also link the ad to an outside site, such as an event ticketing page on your website. Note that Facebook now penalises ads with pictures that contain large amounts of overlaid text, so the best option is to use a picture or video with little to no text. Facebook ads show up in users’ newsfeeds, as well as on Messenger and Instagram.

How does it work?

When you design a Facebook ad, you customise it to the needs of your organisation, nominating a targeted demographic and budget. There are three different ways to advertise on Facebook, and they all offer slightly different features.

  • Boosted post. This option allows you to pay money for a post you’ve already published to be promoted more widely. It’s the easiest way to advertise but also the least effective as you have only limited control of targeting and can’t set an advertising objective.
  • Ads Manager. Facebook’s Ads Manager tool allows you to set an objective for your advertising—for example, clicks to your website, page likes or event responses—which will target your ad to people most likely to respond. You can also target your advertising to very specific audiences, including custom profiles that you create, and you have greater control over your budget and schedule. When used properly, this can be a very effective way of advertising.
  • Power Editor. The Power Editor is the next level up from Ads Manager, providing all the same functionality plus extra conversion-tracking features; however, it is also the most complex to learn.

How much does it cost?

You set your own budget and you can nominate whether you have a daily budget (a maximum amount spent per day) or a lifetime budget (a maximum amount spent over the life of the ad). You’ll reach more people with a bigger budget but you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot for the ads to be effective.

Where can I find out more?

There are many good online resources about how to maximise your Facebook advertising—including how to design an effective ad—so, as with all advertising, do your research before you jump in. The Facebook Business page is probably the best place to start, but there are also many third-party resources out there. At a minimum, you need to have a good understanding of your target audience, your advertising objective (how you want your audience to respond to your ad) and your budget. The good news is that Facebook ads are a very affordable way of advertising and, for many organisations, will be much more effective than other forms if used correctly.

Developing an effective mailing list

Photo credit: AJC via / CC BY-SA

In December’s Useful Tools post, we looked at options for email list providers, and why it’s a good idea to use a service such as MailChimp. But once you’ve got your list set up, how can you best use it to reach your audience?

Once you’ve decided to set up a mailing list, you need to encourage people to join. The first thing to do is create a sign-up form, embed it on your website and link it to your social media accounts. You may choose to put it as a pop-up on your website (although it’s important to note that Google now penalises mobile sites that use pop-ups) or just have it as a simple link or button. Make sure the design of your sign-up form adheres to your branding in terms of logos, colours and fonts. If you’re hosting an event, you can also have an area where people can sign up directly. MailChimp, for example, has an app that lets you display your sign-up form on a tablet.


In general, the best way to build a mailing list is by providing some sort of incentive—something subscribers can’t receive anywhere else. Although it used to be enough to offer ‘regular news and updates,’ these days some sort of free content or other material incentive tends to work best. Many authors, for example, use a free ebook as an incentive to attract new subscribers. The amateur theatre group above could offer a voucher for one complementary ticket to its next show, valid for a certain number of months from the date of the subscription.

Although this may seem counterintuitive, it’s what is known as a ‘loss leader’ in marketing and economics, where something is sold below its market value in order to drive sales of other related products .  For example, in the case of an amateur theatre group, the cost of one complimentary ticket will probably be offset by future ticket purchases from that subscriber, especially since people generally prefer to go to the theatre with others, so that subscriber may actually bring along new audience members who would not otherwise have come to the show.

Whatever incentive you offer, you need to make good on it. Don’t make an offer and then hamstring it with arduous conditions or otherwise make it difficult for the subscriber to claim. By giving you their contact details, your subscribers are placing trust in your organisation, and they are also giving you a very valuable marketing tool. Don’t take it for granted.

Sending emails

There are a couple of different ways to manage your mailing list. You could decide to send out a regular newsletter—for example, monthly or fortnightly (weekly tends to get a bit spammy)—or you could send out news emails on an ad hoc basis, such as when you have a major event. What works best will depend on your organisation and target audience.

Make sure your template is clean and easy to read, and that your content has been proofread and is properly spaced. Don’t make your email too long—people’s attention spans are short and their time is limited. Put your most important messages up front. The tone of your email should conform to your brand voice.

Embed links in your emails that subscribers can visit for further information, but avoid saying ‘click here’. It should be clear where the link is going to (‘click here’ could go anywhere) and bear in mind that many of your subscribers will be viewing your email on a smartphone or tablet, rather than using a mouse (so not technically ‘clicking’). Make sure all your links are active and unbroken before you send the email.

Send a test version to yourself before you send it to your list, so you can check the layout, design and link functionality, and check for any other errors.

Avoiding spam

You will need to comply with anti-spam legislation and your mailing list provider should have procedures in place to help you do this. Among other things, this means you will need to provide contact details, including a postal address, which will go out on every email you send. You will also need to make sure your subscribers are able to unsubscribe at any time (this is usually done through an automated link).

Remember that most people receive tens or even hundreds of emails per day, so don’t annoy your subscribers by emailing them too often. If your open rates are going down and your sending frequency is high, this could indicate frustration among your subscribers with the number of emails you’re sending them.

Keep your list up to date

This is a huge issue for volunteer organisations, particularly those with a lot of turnover in their membership. Although automatic unsubscribe buttons help, if you’re sending out members-only emails then you need to make sure that your list is kept up to date, that new members are added, and that anyone who is no longer a member is removed. This means the person in charge of your membership needs to go through the mailing list regularly to check that it remains accurate. There’s no point sending emails to people who no longer want or need to receive them, and in the worst case you may have issues with confidentiality if non-members are receiving members-only information.

A well-functioning mailing list is still one of the best outreach tools available as you’re going directly to your audience. Above all, respect their time and the trust they’re placing in your organisation.

Useful Tools: Mailing lists

Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on email list management tools.

An up-to-date email list is one of the most powerful marketing tools community groups can employ, because it allows you to communicate directly with the people that matter most to you in a targeted way and without having to pay for advertising. In the last few years, there has been an explosion of free software that lets you curate your list, produce branded sign-up forms for your website and social media, send professional-looking HTML emails, and track the data associated with those emails, making it easier than ever to develop an email list.

Using a mailing list provider also ensures you avoid privacy issues such as accidentally putting all addresses in the ‘carbon copy’ (cc) field rather than ‘blind carbon copy’ (bcc), or other practices that may put you in violation of various countries’ anti-spam legislation (such as not providing an unsubscribe facility or contact details for the sender).

Email marketing software

MailChimp is one of the best-known online email marketing software providers, although there are others that offer a similar service, such as Benchmark Email and VerticalResponse. These companies differ in the services they offer, but many have free plans up to a certain number of list recipients (2000 for MailChimp, 1000 for VerticalResponse) and a monthly email cap (12,000 for MailChimp, 4000 for VerticalResponse). You will need to investigate which software best meets your needs, and these are some things to look for in a free plan.

  • Time period: Is it permanently free or is the plan only offered as a limited-time trial?
  • Contact numbers: How many contacts can you have on your mailing list for a free plan?
  • Monthly cap: How many emails can you send per month?
  • Templates: Does the program offer HTML email templates, and how easy are they to use? Are they free or do you have to pay for them? Are they responsive (viewable on mobile devices as well as desktops)?
  • Sign-up forms: What sorts of sign-up forms can you create?
  • Importing contacts: Are you able to import existing lists of contacts or do contacts have to sign up individually through the software’s sign-up form?
  • Multiple lists: Can you manage multiple mailing lists through the one account?
  • Integration: Is the software set up for easy integration with the most popular free website hosts, like WordPress? Can you access it through apps on smartphones or tablets?
  • Reply functionality: If a subscriber wants to contact you, how easy is it?
  • Analytics: What sort of data does the program allow you to track? Are you able to request email notifications for certain types of data (such as new subscribers)?
  • Support and training: Does the software company offer good support and information to help you improve your email marketing?
  • Upgrades: What do the paid packages offer, and are they affordable should you need to upgrade in future?


One of the great advantages to using an email marketing provider is access to analytics. These are the most common data that you can track from your mailing list provider.

  • List growth. How many people are subscribing to (or unsubscribing from) your list each month?
  • Open rates. How many people on your list opened the email you sent them (as opposed to deleting it without reading it)? How does this compare to averages across your industry? This gives an idea of how engaging your subject line is, among other things.
  • Click rates. What percentage of subscribers are clicking the links in your email? This indicates how interested your subscribers are in your content.
  • A/B testing. Some providers let you run tests on two different versions of your subject line, sender name or content to see which version is the most popular. This allows you to make better-informed marketing decisions.

Although there’s an initial learning curve when you start using a mailing list provider, in the long run it will make it much easier to manage your list, and will also help ensure you don’t run afoul of anti-spam legislation.

Trove – National Library of Australia

The internet has opened up a host of treasures, and never more so than when it comes to accessing historical or digitised information. Once upon a time, if a community group wanted to engage with historical sources – either by researching or sharing them – they had to go through a laborious process of libraries and archives. Now, databases like Trove at the National Library of Australia have opened up a world of possibilities.

Trove brings together Australian-related content from archives, libraries and research and cultural institutions across the country, including photos, objects, newspapers, maps, music, sound and video, government papers, diaries and letters, and archived websites. I briefly mentioned Trove in this blog post discussing public access archives and databases, but its possibilities are far more extensive.

Today, Trove Outreach Officer Catriona Bryce shares what the platform can do and how it can be used by community groups and not-for-profits.

What is your role in Trove?

My job is to talk to people about their use of Trove, and tell other people about inspirational uses of Trove. We want everyone who has an interest in Australian history and culture to see Trove as the first stop on his or her information journey.

How and why was Trove developed?

The most important thing the National Library of Australia does is to get Australia’s cultural heritage out into the world where it can inspire, inform and delight. That’s what Trove is for. Trove didn’t come out of a box, ready for the National Library to install. Trove has grown out of other services and evolved through the influence of people, technological developments and business needs. Trove was built from the experience and knowledge gained through the Library’s many years of sharing and collaborating with other organisations. From the collected catalogues of the Australian National Bibliographic Network launched in 1981, through to Picture Australia in the 2000s and the digitised newspapers, Trove was the coming together of a variety of standalone services. In the next few years Trove will be improved to make access to Australia’s collections even better.

What are the main services you provide?

Trove provides free access to the cultural collections of Australia, including university repositories, small historical societies, Australian libraries and government information.

There are three basic types of material in Trove:

  • Digitised items –  A newspaper, for instance, that was first published as printed pieces of paper. It was a tangible item. It’s had its picture taken, and been loaded into Trove. This is a digital copy of the original physical item. People can look at them right now, in Trove. We call this the digitised content.
  • ‘Born digital’ material – Think of an academic article that was created on a computer as a word document and published as a PDF, then submitted to and kept in a repository. There was never a physical version that we could hold in our hands. People can look at some of these digital copies right now on Trove, just like the digitised content.
  • Links to other collections – Only a description of the item comes into Trove. People click on a link and they’re taken to an organisation’s own website to either view more information about the item and hopefully a digitised version, or to consider if it’s possible to come and visit the item in person. Most of our cultural heritage is not digitised and available in a few clicks. We think letting people know an item exists is really important for a more complete story of Australia.

We also help organisations of all sizes share their collections with the world, through a content partnership (where we link to an external website) or a digitisation partnership (where we digitise material and share it through Trove). For both partnerships the Library has teams of people to assist organisations.

What do you find most fulfilling about your work? What’s the biggest challenge?

A couple of years ago a woman from Victoria contacted us to thank us. Her father had been reminiscing at dinner that evening about his childhood in a Victorian state home. He remembered that one day a photographer had come out to take a photograph of the children and wondered if it was possible to find it. Ten minutes’ searching in Trove and his daughter had found the only photograph of this man from his childhood. Trove returns people’s histories to them. Whenever the challenges of organisational inertia and dodgy data begin to get me down I remember this story and I know that Trove is worth the effort.

What sorts of community groups and not-for-profits use Trove, and how do they use it?

Trove works with a variety of groups from the community and non-profit sectors, from organisations like RSL Victoria, and the Tatura Irrigration and Wartime Camps Museum, to local historical societies like the Berrima Historical Society. Each of these organisations has shared their collections with Trove through a content partnership. It’s as simple as telling us that you have a collection to share.

Increasingly, local groups are working with us to digitise their local newspaper, journal or newsletter and provide free access to it in Trove.

For instance, a ‘hidden’ journal is now accessible on Trove, according to Jaci Grant, archivist for the Catholic Diocese of Bathurst, who partnered with the Library to digitise the diocesan newsletter, The Record (1877-1884; 1929-1931). The Library completed the 200 issues of this journal just before Christmas 2016. According to Ms Grant, “it was a rewarding and enjoyable process…the hard copy of the Record is often required for research purposes, now that the title is digitised and has been delivered to Trove there is no longer anything to hold up researchers. Having the journal digitised will mean that the hard copy no longer needs to be handled so will help preserve the copies for a longer time.”

Apart from sharing collections or digitising, museums use to Trove to research new exhibitions, historical societies use Trove to find out more about their history, and they train their members in the use of Trove.

Trove brings people together. A small town of 500 people in Western Australia, 300 kilometres north of Perth, is a vibrant centre of historical discovery and sharing. Formed in 1983, the Carnamah Historical Society collects, records, preserves and promotes their local history. They have been using Trove for years to better understand their community and they share their understandings in a museum, a heritage-listed building and the Biographical Dictionary of Coorow.

Being able to search across newspapers has been a game-changer for historians and organisations like this. Trove supports a wide range of the society’s ‘Virtual Volunteering’ projects, such as the Biographical Dictionary of Coorow, Carnamah and Three Springs. Searchability of their local newspapers benefits both their organisation and the broader community and – since October 2015 – has resulted in a steady workforce of virtual volunteers. Some nine months later and in any given week they have between 10 and 60 volunteers from across Western Australia working on Trove correction tasks.

Andrew Bowman-Bright from the society says that volunteers have corrected 1,460,034 lines of newspaper text. This work has led directly to discoveries they would never otherwise have made. “If Trove didn’t exist we’d miss being able to easily discover so much about our history and heritage,” he said.

What’s the most innovative use of Trove you’ve seen?

There are so many innovative uses of Trove, but my current favourite has to be Dr Katherine Bode from the Australian National University discovering Australian fiction long forgotten.

In nineteenth-century Australia, newspapers were the main local publishers as well as the major sources of fiction, both local and imported.

Dr Bode, who is an Associate Professor of Literary and Textual Studies at the Australian National University, wondered about the fiction that had not been studied or even recorded as part of the body of Australian literature. What works of fiction were out there? And what is their contribution to Australia’s literary history?

Fortunately, Trove has now digitised and made freely available around 1,300 of the estimated 7,700 Australian newspapers ever published.

Trove has made it possible, for the first time, to explore this nineteenth-century Australian newspaper fiction in a systematic and extensive way.

Dr Bode devised a paratextual method to mine Trove’s digitised newspapers to automatically identify and harvest fictional content. She discovered over 16,500 fictional works, which has massively expanded the record of nineteenth-century Australian literary culture and its connections with the international circulation of fiction in this period. Her discoveries will be published in a new book called A World of Fiction: Digital Archives and the Future of Literary History, due in 2018.

These newly found works will be highlighted in Trove. Dr Bode is now working with the Trove team to load this newly discovered fiction back into Trove as brand new records, describing works of fiction where any member of the public can easily find and enjoy them.

What’s the best way for a community group or non-profit to get started with Trove?

Click in the search box, type your name, or a topic you’re interested in and click search. Start exploring from there. You never know what you’ll discover!

If you have a collection you’d like to share through Trove, the best thing to do is contact us and tell us what you’ve got. We can then work out which sort of partnership is right for you.

Where can people get more information or become part of the Trove community?

There’s plenty of information in our Help Centre, both for searching Trove and for contributing a collection to Trove. If you have any questions, please contact us.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

If you’d like to read some wonderful stories about the things people have found in Trove, I encourage you to visit the Trove blog. Ghosts, lawn-mowers, long-lost football trophies, the role of women in wartime…there’s a lot to discover in Trove!

Useful Tools: Free stock media sites

Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on free stock photo, illustration, font, music, and sound effects sites.

There are many websites where you can find free stock photos, illustrations, fonts, music and sound effects. However, the caveat to this is you get what you pay for. Although some sites provide high-quality media, others—particularly free stock photo sites—are of considerably lower quality than media that you pay for, both in terms of composition and resolution. However, many paid stock media sites now offer deals where you can purchase media individually rather than needing a subscription.

Most free stock media is licensed under Creative Commons, so you’ll need to make sure you adhere to the terms of the license when you use it. If you’re getting historical content from libraries, also make sure that you’re free to use it.

Some of the most popular free (and paid) stock media sites are detailed below, along with databases for historical images. However, there are literally hundreds of sites out there, so it’s worth conducting your own search as well.

Free sites


Flickr is a photo-sharing site where users can upload their own photos. It also has a section called The Commons, which collates photos from public archives around the world and is a great source of historical photos. Flickr users can choose different kinds of licenses when they upload their photos. When you conduct a keyword search on Flickr, in the top left corner there is a drop-down box where you can select to display only photos with a particular license (e.g. commercial use allowed). When you click on a particular photo you’ll also be able to see the terms of the license and can check if it suits your purposes.

Image Finder

Image Finder was originally started as a search engine for Creative Commons images on Flickr, but it has now expanded to search and display Creative Commons images from various stock photo sites. Unlike other stock photo sites, where you download the images directly, Image Finder sends you to the author’s own site to download high-resolution versions.


Like Image Finder, Foter is a search engine of Creative Commons images, but it is also a public domain database where users can upload their own images. The interface is clean and user-friendly, and the license attributes of each image are easy to find.


Pixabay is one of the most popular free stock media sites due to its large size and accessibility. All its media is licensed under Creative Commons and can be used for any purpose, including commercial use, without attribution. As well as photos, it contains illustrations, vector graphics and videos.

Free Music Archive

The Free Music Archive is a database of public domain and Creative Commons-licenced music, curated by genre. It also contains a handy FAQ section that details the various licenses for its content. is a collection of free sound effects for use in videos or other projects. The sound effects are free for all uses, including commercial use, as long as they’re integrated into projects (i.e. they can’t be on-sold by themselves).

Public domain archives and databases


Trove is the National Library of Australia’s digitised content platform. It brings together Australian-related content from archives, libraries and research and cultural institutions across the country, including photos, objects, newspapers, maps, music, sound and video, government papers, diaries and letters, and archived websites. It’s a great source of historical photos of Australia.

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress in the US has a fantastic online collection of historical photographs and other documents, including newspapers, maps, films and sound recordings.

Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution has around 3000 images under public domain usage on its Flickr page.

British Library

The British Library has an extensive digital collection, although it’s not as user-friendly as Trove or the Library of Congress sites. However, many of its images are available on the British Library Flickr page and are in the public domain in most countries.

Paid sites


iStock is a paid stock photo site run by Getty Images, which is a major player in news photography. It contains photos, illustrations, vector graphics, video and audio. You can buy content through either a monthly subscription or through ‘credits’, which give you a certain number of images. However, it’s quite expensive.


Shutterstock is a paid stock photo site similar to iStock in quality and pricing. It contains photos, illustrations, vector graphics, video footage and sound recordings.

Not-for-profit Law

It’s not unusual for community groups and not-for-profits to find themselves in legal tangles, whether that’s around governance, dispute resolution or volunteer management. Unfortunately, legal advice can also be prohibitively expensive for many groups.

Luckily, there’s help available. Australian community groups and not-for-profits have access to the excellent Not-for-profit Law (NFP Law) service, a volunteer legal service run by the pro bono legal organisation Justice Connect.

I spoke to NFP Law’s Manager of Education and Advocacy, Nadine Clode, about what the organisation does, and what resources are available for community groups and not-for-profits with legal issues.


How and why was Not-for-profit Law started?

The service that is now called Not-for-profit Law was established by in 2007 after a scoping study about how best to respond to the unmet legal needs of small-medium not-for-profit community organisations. Ten years on, the service is growing from strength to strength. Not-for-profit Law now operates out of offices in Melbourne and Sydney, delivering advice, information and training sessions to community organisations across Australia. Why? Because we know if we support not-for-profit organisations through services and law reform, we will help them improve their efficiency and effectiveness in delivering positive outcomes for the community. They will be able to better focus their time and energy on achieving their mission – whether that’s supporting vulnerable people, delivering important services, enhancing diversity or bringing the community together.

What are the main services you provide?

We provide free or low cost, high quality practical legal help for not-for-profit community organisations, and advocate for improved standards and legal frameworks. We do this by:

  • Building not-for-profit capacity with free and low-cost education, mostly through our web-based Information Hub and through our webinar program
  • Free legal advice, delivered by staff lawyers or via Justice Connect’s member law firms and barristers
  • Law and policy reform work to make sure there is the best possible legal framework for the sector, and
  • Delivering tailored legal training on a fee-for-service basis through our social enterprise, Not-for-profit Legal Training.

What do you find most fulfilling about your work? What’s the biggest challenge?

The most fulfilling aspect of my work in the Not-for-profit Law team of Justice Connect is knowing that I can use my skills to help organisations resolve legal problems that they may have never been able to fix otherwise. In helping one organisation, I set off a positive domino effect, where I am also helping the people who go to that organisation for support or assistance. And it is often the small volunteer-run organisations that really give me a sense of doing something useful. As one volunteer told me: “After volunteering since 1995 I now feel cared about. Thank you from us all who need your help.”

The biggest challenge is meeting demand with limited resources, including funding. The Not-for-profit Law team would love to help all organisations with legal problems. But as a small team of lawyers, we don’t have the capacity. On the plus side, we have wonderful relationships with our member law firms, who provide us with countless hours of pro bono legal information and advice along with partnerships with other organisations (including in-house legal teams of corporates) who support us with our work. We also focus much of our energies on legal information resources so that, where possible, organisations can be empowered to solve their own problems.

Roughly how many organisations does NFP Law assist per year, and what areas do they work in?

In the past financial year, our Information Hub resources received 365,000 online hits – it has more than 280 factsheets and resources on a range of issues, from starting an NFP, to running meetings, to employment and safety issues.

Last year we received over 1,700 legal enquiries. Of these, we provided legal information to 1,097 clients, provided free legal advice to 379 and referred 134 clients onto one of our member firms for pro bono assistance.

We also provided legal training to over 2,400 people in 108 training sessions.

We provide assistance to NFP organisations across Australia. These organisations cover a range of community activities, from local clubs to international aid agencies. We provide direct legal assistance to organisations that help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people. This can take a number of forms, including free legal advice or a pro bono referral.

What are the most common legal issues faced by non-profits or community groups?

We are often asked about managing volunteers – this is not surprising given that many (if not all!) of the 600,000 not-for-profit organisations across Australia are supported by volunteers, or are wholly volunteer run. We have developed many helpful guides (including Ending the volunteer relationship and Safety, risk management and volunteers) and our training program on ‘legal issues in managing volunteers’ is always popular.

Governance obligations is another common issue that NFP organisations ask us about. To meet this demand, we offer organisations tailored and comprehensive governance training that helps board and committee members better understand their legal responsibilities.

How to resolve an internal dispute is another common enquiry. We have produced a comprehensive suite of dispute resolution resources which are available on our Internal Conflict page, however, we do not provide direct legal advice on this issue.

Fundraising laws in Australia are complex and tricky to navigate. We are frequently asked about the need for licences in one or more states (where organisations want to conduct an online fundraising campaign). We have been working hard to #fixfundraising laws. The campaign has called for the repeal of complicated and duplicative state and territory-based fundraising laws, and proposed that the Australian Consumer Law provides a nationally-consistent set of laws that can be used to support ethical fundraising behaviour.

Which area(s) of law do you think it’s crucial for non-profits to understand?

It is crucial for not-for-profits to be practising good governance. Good governance means committee members (or board members) are complying with their legal duties, in turn this means a better-run organisation. Legal duties apply to all people who sit in a governance position in all not-for-profit organisations. If legal duties are not complied with, committee members could be legally responsible and penalties could apply, which is why it is so important that legal duties are understood. The good news is, legal duties are easy to meet and we have free resources that explain them with practical examples!

What’s the most important thing a non-profit or community group can do to ensure they meet their legal obligations?

There are number of important things a not-for-profit or community group should do to meet their legal obligations. There are numerous obligations, including as committee members in understanding the role and legal duties that come with it, under work health and safety laws, and compliance with requirements set down by regulators such as Fair Trading NSW or the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

This is why we have developed our Information Hub which has more than 280 resources covering 12 topics and more than 70 sub-topics, from setting up an organisation, to the people involved, to risk and insurance to winding up an organisation. The Hub also contains helpful toolkits (for example, how to run a NSW incorporated associations), templates (i.e. sample volunteer agreement) and checklists (i.e. holding an event) and is supported by videos that help explain common situations for community groups that might involve legal considerations (i.e. key considerations around risk and legal duties).

What should organisations do if they’re concerned that they may not be legally compliant?

We always recommend getting legal advice if an organisation is unsure if it is legally compliant. It is not something that can be ignored.

Apart from NFP Law’s own fact sheets, what resources do you recommend if people want to educate themselves on the relevant areas of law?

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission website has a wide range of factsheets and resources on managing a charity and good governance procedures.

The Arts Law Centre has their own Info Hub, similar to ours, that covers legal issues specific to arts organisations such as copyright, defamation and privacy as well as general governance topics.

What advice do you have for people who are thinking of starting a community group or non-profit?

We recommend first reading our “Getting Started” resources to get you thinking about the legal issues and decisions you will need to make. We have also developed the free Getting Started Decision Framework, that will step you through the questions your group needs to consider, and it will provide you with your own report (based on your answers to the questions) about important considerations, such as legal structure.

Before you choose to incorporate, it’s vital that you consider factors like who will run the organisation (your potential committee members), what you will do (your purposes), where your funding will come from, and how the organisation will be run.

One of the biggest decisions you will face is what legal structure you should choose. It is important to be aware of the different options, and the obligations attached to each structure. We recommend reading widely to make sure you choose the most appropriate structure the first time, because having to change structure down the track can be difficult. Our resources on legal structures are available here.

Running an organisation can be a fair amount of work. Sometimes it can be more convenient and practical to work with an organisation already in existence. If there are other organisations doing the same or similar work you wish to do, you might consider volunteering with them, or looking at your work forming a project under their umbrella.

How can people get in touch with you?

We release a monthly Not-for-profit Law Update that advertises upcoming training sessions, changes in the law and relevant news from the sector. It’s a great way to stay informed with the not-for-profit community and any changes or events that may be relevant to your organisation. You can sign up to receive the update here. We also keep a fairly active Twitter account if that is your thing (our handle is @nfp_law).

Keep an eye on our training page for upcoming free and low cost webinars for individuals. If you think your organisation could benefit from a training session with Justice Connect’s lawyers, then visit our Training for Community Organisations page. We provide training on a wide variety of topics and tailor the content to suit your needs. Get in touch today to book in!

Storytelling for community groups

Book on wood planks over beauty mountains landscape background

Here at Pure Arts Communications, among other things, I run two kinds of writing training – professional writing for organisations, and fiction writing (because, when I don’t have my PAC hat on, you can find me writing fiction under the name L.M. Merrington). One of the great misconceptions I encounter, however, is that the gulf between these two types of writing is huge and insurmountable.

In some ways, of course, they’re very different – but increasingly we’re starting to see businesses incorporating many of the principles of narrative storytelling into their communications. Why? Because as humans we’re hardwired for story, and narrative storytelling is one of the most effective ways of conveying information. Just how effective this method is can be seen in the phenomenal success of TED Talks, the most popular of which has garnered nearly 24 million views (yes, you read that right!).

So how can you start incorporating storytelling techniques into your organisation’s communications?

Understand your organisation’s story

Community groups and not-for-profits often have rich stories and histories, because more often than not they’ve been started by people who are incredibly passionate about what they do. Think about why your organisation exists and what drove the people who began it. What community need is it meeting? This sort of story – where you came from, where you’re going and why you care about it – is perfect for your website’s ‘About Us’ page. Being able to clearly articulate your group’s story is also crucial for fundraising, because people want to know what they’re supporting.

Find and emphasise common themes

A couple of years ago, I helped a community theatre group prepare an oral history project (through a series of video interviews) as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations. A thing that interviewees consistently said – no matter whether they’d been there right from the start or had joined relatively recently – was that they stayed because the group was like a family. Given that the amateur theatre world can sometimes be cliquey and elitist, having lots of clips of people saying that they found the group warm and welcoming was communications gold, because it showed how they were different and what their values were.

Be passionate, personal and authentic

One of the reasons storytelling is so powerful is because it connects with our emotions. People who are looking to get involved with a community group will probably use a rational basis for their decision – Is it close to me? Does it engage my interests? – but they’ll also be looking to connect on an emotional level as well. Is the group friendly? Will I fit in here? What are their values and do they align with mine?

One of the best ways to connect at this emotional level is to talk about your organisation passionately and authentically, and in a way that builds relationships. This may mean asking some of your members to tell their stories about why they joined and why they stay – testimonials are very powerful – but also showing the passion that your organisation has for its cause.

Being authentic and passionate doesn’t mean being unprofessional. It simply means finding a voice that’s unique to your group and staying true to your organisation’s values across all your communications.

Enjoy it!

Storytelling is great fun, and it can make your communications so much easier and more interesting. There are many, many resources for non-profits available online, so have a look around and give it a go. Even if you’re not a natural writer, you might surprise yourself!

5 steps for scoping a project

For many volunteer organisations or community groups, scoping out a large project can be a daunting task. We’ve all been there – when confronted with a massive undertaking, such as developing a new policy or procedure, it can be hard to know where to start.

But learning to outline a project effectively is imperative – having a properly-scoped project will help you complete it on time and on budget. If you’re looking to work with an outside professional, such as a freelance designer, writer or consultant, you’ll also need to have a good idea of what you want before you approach them, because they’ll need to know details and timelines. So here are a few simple steps to make the process easier.

1. Start with the big picture. What is it you want to achieve with the project and why? E.g. “Develop a sexual harassment policy for our organisation to bring us into line with best practices and ensure we meet our legal and ethical obligations.”

2. Break it into chunks. Almost all projects can be compartmentalised to a certain extent – a long document can be broken into chapters or sections, for example. A large project becomes much more manageable once it’s in smaller pieces.

3. Prioritise the most important things. In most projects, there will be some areas that are critical and some that are less so. Figuring out what your priorities are will help you decide which tasks you need to complete first and/or which you need professional help with. This is particularly important if you’re working with a professional but don’t have the budget for them to complete the entire project. You can use a system such as MoSCoW to help align your priorities – list the things you Must do, Should do, Could do, and Want to do.

4. Develop concrete tasks. This is about translating your project from the ‘why’ to the ‘how’ – from a great idea to something that can actually be done. Your tasks need to be as specific and detailed as possible, so that the people doing them know exactly what they need to achieve. This is particularly important if you’re outsourcing some or all of them to professionals, because they’ll be working off what you tell them and any late changes could lead to an increased cost. Take each of the areas you’ve prioritised above and work out exactly what you need, e.g. “500 words outlining the history of our organisation, based on existing documents.” Make sure you think about all aspects of the task, including the amount of research or development that needs to be done, and a realistic timeframe for achieving it.

5. Set deadlines. Decide on an overall deadline for the project, and then work out individual deadlines for each task according to its priority. Make sure you factor in things like final proofreading for written documents, or board sign-off. The deadlines should be realistic, especially if you’re working with a professional, because quick-turnaround tasks will cost more. Note: ASAP is not a deadline!

Scoping a project takes time, and it can be frustrating when you’re enthusiastic and just want to launch straight into it. But it’s worth investing the time at the start to ensure you’ve got a really clear idea of how it’s going to run – it’ll save you a lot of grief down the track and will also help you maintain good relationships with any outside providers you’re working with.

Why all community groups need a sexual harassment policy

Taylor Swift. Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage

Today a jury in the US found DJ David Mueller guilty of assault and battery against pop star Taylor Swift, for putting his hand up her skirt and groping her at a party. For the many women around the world who have been subject to sexual harassment or assault, this was a vindicating moment.

Most workplaces these days have come a long way in how they deal with sexual harassment allegations, with comprehensive policies and procedures that comply with the relevant laws while being as just and fair as possible. Many community groups and small not-for-profits, however, still have a long way to go.

It’s easy to see how developing these policies can be put off. They’re complex, difficult to get right and may even require legal advice. When a volunteer board has its hands full keeping the organisation running, policies and procedures often get put on the backburner or take a very long time to come to fruition.

Unfortunately, many community groups only realise how important these things are when they’re needed, which is far too late. It’s not unusual for a community group to go into meltdown over a sexual harassment allegation when it doesn’t have a policy or procedure to follow. The resulting process risks being neither just nor fair, and may fail to conform to best practice for investigating these sorts of allegations as set out by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The complainant may also have grounds for a complaint to either the AHRC or their state-based anti-discrimination authority due to failures in the process, which could end up being drawn-out, painful and costly for all involved. Dealing with sexual harassment allegations is never going to be easy, but having a proper process will make it less traumatic for both the complainant and the accused, and will increase the chances of a satisfactory resolution for all parties.

If your organisation doesn’t have a sexual harassment policy, the time to develop one is now. The good news is there are plenty of resources available to help you.

Developing these sorts of policies and procedures isn’t just about protecting your organisation – it’s about ensuring all parties are treated justly and fairly, and that the process is transparent and well-executed. You may think the cost in time and potentially money (should you require legal advice) is high – but the cost of not doing it can be far higher.