Do you have someone lined up to help you write stories for your nonprofit organization? Great! Do you know how to assign a writing task properly? Let’s get you ready to brief your writer so you can get the best stories, as efficiently as possible.
Whether your writer is a member of your team, another employee, a volunteer or a freelance copywriter like me, you need to provide clear and detailed direction. Even the most experienced writers cannot create the stories you need out of thin air.
There are a few key elements you need to think through, and then communicate to your writer to get them oriented. With a good brief, tailored specifically for assigning stories and other editorial content:
- You’ll provide clear direction and creative inspiration
- You’ll reduce the number of draft/revisions
- Your internal clients will be happier, sooner
- People will want to read these high-quality stories!
Here’s what your writer needs to know in order to write a great story
Why does your organization need this content? Where will it be used (e.g. newsletter, website, printed report) and what are the results you are hoping for? When your writer knows what you want the content to achieve, they’ll understand the basic direction and the call-to-action around which to frame the story.
Here’s a question I love to ask my clients: “If you could sum up this story in one sentence, what would it be?” The answer – essentially the main message – adds another layer of context to my understanding of the goal.
Who is the intended reader of this story? Give your writer a brief description of your reader (top-level, relevant demographics and psychographics), along with a sense of what this reader will want to get out of reading the story.
How long should the story be, in the number of words? If you want to leave your writer some flexibility, at least provide a ballpark range (e.g. 300-500 vs. 800-1,000 words).
Relevant background materials
Don’t leave your writer to search for background material if you already have a better sense of the most appropriate sources. Providing the right background information (or a list) up front helps to shape the right story sooner.
Who will the writer need to interview to understand and shape the story? Which spokespeople will they quote in the story? Will the writer be responsible for contacting each individual to arrange interviews, or does that need to go through you? Be clear about the process.
Even if your writer is internal, it will help them to know who is going to review the story, when and why. For example, who is going to see the content at the rough draft stage vs. almost-final stage? Who will be a fact-checker, who is going to review for house style and who will just need to sign off? The answers will help your writer to understand what is expected of each draft.
Links to include (for web content)
If you’re assigning stories for publication on your website or blog, provide your writer with a list of:
- Internal links that you want to include. You might be more familiar with your website content and what you need to link back to.
- External link to content that supports the story. Direct your writer to credible or previously approved sources. You might also have a better idea of partner organizations or others whose websites or content you want to support with links.
Of course, as they research and write the story, your writer can and should add relevant links.
Bonus briefing help
If the story you’re assigning is a case study or profile, you can forward along these resources to guide your writer further:
- Case study interview questions for nonprofit organizations
- Writing donor and volunteer profiles: the interview
You’re ready to brief your writer!
Now you know how to assign a writing task – story writing in particular. Depending on whether your writer is internal or external, you might need to add more to your brief: things like your timeline and final deadline, messaging guidelines, editorial guidelines, key terms to include and jargon to avoid.
Yes, preparing this brief is going to take some thought and a little work on your part (although really, you just need to provide a few short sentences or bullets for each element). But it’s worth the effort because you’ll be setting everyone up for success. Your writer will know what they need to deliver and you will, therefore, save time on revisions later.