What should a writer do? Write, write, write. That’s the advice that’s given out, time and again. I’ve been writing fiction for about eight years now, and sometimes I found myself getting frustrated because I didn’t have time to ‘write’. Then I took a step back, and realised that the stuff that was taking up my free time was … writing.
I write for a charity. I don’t write ‘for charity’, meaning that I’m paid or sponsored to write, with the money going to a charitable cause. I write for the local branch of Cats Protection. I write most of the newsletter, and edit other people’s contributions. I write the website (all but the lost and found section). I write press releases, I write letters to people who ask for help, I write updates for sponsors, and I write reports, commissioned articles and short pieces for the national magazine, The Cat. It’s unpaid, but my words go out six times a year to a local subscriber base of 400 – 500 people. The national magazine has a circulation of 26,000. To put that into context, the respected sf magazine that I’ve been trying to get my fiction into for years has a circulation of less than 5,000.
Writing for the charity definitely involves ‘writing about what you know’, but the other side of the coin is that by committing to write, I’ve had to hit deadlines, do research and liaise with other volunteers, and so have learned much more about how the organisation works.
I was in the right place at the right time with Cats Protection, and have been able to help the branch grow from small beginnings into one of the best known branches in the country. I’ve noticed, over the last few years, that we’ve had a regular stream of students and graduates offering to take over the newsletter, or the website, for a year or so, as a project or to get work experience. It’s very flattering that we’ve grown to the stage where we’re seen as a career opportunity, but my advice to those students and graduates would be that they should find a group that needs them. The satisfaction involved in making a difference is huge.
Look for a charity with aims that suit you. Look for a small branch of a national charity, or a new or struggling local charity or voluntary group. Ask them if they have a regular newsletter, website or Facebook page, and see who produces it, and if they would like some help. Ask them if they’d like some help with press releases. Even for a small charity, the newsletter and the website are their main ways of reaching supporters, so you will need to convince them that you will stay the distance, get the job done, and improve things. A writer for a charity may have to get involved in other ways, to make the connections they need to gather information. I help with fund raising too, and now and again help with cat welfare work.
Good communication is vitally important for good causes, and you can help in many ways. If you’re looking for a useful way to use your talent and training, then writing for a charity might be a good way to start.
Jeanette Greaves is the voluntary PR Officer for Cats Protection, Preston Branch. She is a fan of the printed word, websites, Facebook, Twitter, local and national radio … whatever it takes to get the word out.