• Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

How to Freelance While Holding Down a Full-time Nonprofit Job

Updated: 18 hours ago


Ah, freelancing. For many of us, it’s the opportunity to pursue a dream career or get some extra cash from the comfort of our own homes. However, it’s also a career that, like fundraising, can take a while to build up — which means that you’re often going to need to find a way to get your business started while still holding down your full-time nonprofit job.

This prospect can be daunting, to say the least, especially if we already have a full and busy life. But it can be done — with the right forethought and a positive mental attitude. Today, we’re going to look at five of the ways I’ve found most helpful in striking that healthy balance.


Designate a time and place for your freelance work


One of the most important parts of establishing a freelance job is to separate it early on from your nonprofit job and your home life. You can achieve this by having a completely separate time and place for the job, and then using that space as little as possible when you’re “off the clock.”


This doesn’t need to be as elaborate as a whole home office dedicated solely to your freelance career — though if you have the space for it, fantastic. If you don’t, even a small table is fine. Or, in my case: I have a separate laptop that I use just for work. Once I close it and put it away for the day, I’m “home” from my mental office.


What’s harder is making sure you leave your thoughts at work — especially if you’re freelancing. This is where the designated work hours help, though it still takes practice to disconnect and stop worrying about all the things you still have left to do. But the more you practice and the more you force yourself to stick to your schedule (yes, even when things feel overwhelming), the more you’ll be able to compartmentalize your two jobs and be successful at both of them.


Have a “cool down” routine between jobs


Whether you get up early to do your freelancing before work or put in a few hours after dinner, it’s important to have a routine that lets you make that mental shift. Working two jobs on top of your already busy life is going to be taxing enough on your brain, and a cool down routine will help keep you from burning out by creating a pocket of space where you can recharge between tasks.


Again, it doesn’t need to be complicated. Taking a shower after your freelance work and before you leave for work can be enough or making and having dinner might do the trick. Other ideas include a few minutes alone to meditate or journal, doing some yoga, or reading a short story.


Be wary of trying to cool down via social media or TV, though. Often, these are activities that will tell our brains it’s time to switch off, and you want something that’s going to energize you. Beyond that, though, the sky is truly the limit—so long as you have a way to signal to yourself that it’s time to stop the “fun” activity and switch back into work mode. Although…


Try to think of your freelance work as playtime


Hopefully, you got into your freelancing career because it’s an activity you’re passionate about. And while turning any passion into a career will automatically change your relationship with the activity, it’s important to “keep the spark alive,” as it were. In fact, freelance careers are a lot like marriage. Yes, you do need to put in the work and take it seriously, but you also want to appreciate how lucky you are to be able to pursue your passion, whether that’s editing, illustration, or ghostwriting.


Just as you might sometimes remind yourself why you’re working in the nonprofit sector, do the same for your freelance work. When you find yourself getting stressed and overwhelmed, take a few minutes to sit back and think about what you love about this job. For instance:

· What drew you to the field in the first place?

· Are there any projects you’re working on right now that are particularly exciting?

· Are any of the tasks on your plate today things that you really like doing?

Even if it’s just a little thing, it’s important to treasure the parts of it that bring you joy. That being said, you should still:


Take at least one day off from everything


I know, this suggestion scares you. I heard your panic from here.

And listen, it might often feel like there’s not even a moment to pause and catch your breath. Deadlines loom, nonprofit work never gets easier, life gets in the way, and the constant need to hustle hovers over us like a thick cloud. You already don’t have as much time for your freelance business as you’d like. I get it.


The truth, though, is that burnout is real — and very difficult to recover from. By taking a little bit of time to de-stress and care for your mental health before you’re completely wiped, you’ll actually save yourself a lot of time in the long run.


These breaks don’t necessarily need to be every single week if you truly can’t afford it, though do try to make it a regular, scheduled day off. That way, you’ll be able to plan your workload around the break, as well as having a solid day you can look forward to recharging on.


If you truly don’t think you can afford to take a day off from everything, then at least try to make time for a day that enriches you work in ways that aren’t directly about work, such as taking a fun research trip, or learning something new.


Stay organized


This is really the theme of this whole post, isn’t it? And for good reason. From staying on top of all your projects, to growing your client list, to taxes and invoices, there’s a lot to keep track of when you freelance. Couple that with a fulltime job, and you have even less time to keep track of it.


The solution? You need to get organized.


There are plenty of ways to do this, but the important thing is for you to find a system that makes sense to your personality and workflow. Try to find a method (or several!) that allows you do:

● Stay on top of long-terms goals

● Stay on top of short-term projects

● Track your business finances

● Have room for flexibility and growth


No matter what kind of large-scale organizational systems you decide to use to run your business, it’s important that you keep up with your day-to-day organization as well. I find it especially helpful to clean my desk at the end of each day before sitting down and writing myself a fresh to-do list for tomorrow. That way, when I next sit down, I’ll know exactly what I need to prioritize. Additionally, not having all the previous day’s tasks in my face means they don’t drag me down and distract me from my goals for today.


Apply the same values from your nonprofit job to your freelance work


If you’re working in the nonprofit sector, chances are that your heart is in the right place. Perhaps you’d like to make a difference in the world. Or perhaps you’re passionate about learning each day. Or perhaps you want to know that you’re helping people out there. On top of that, you’re probably carrying out that vision with grace, determination, and grit.

These values will also serve you well when you start freelancing. Remember that your freelance work will also be helping individuals in the world! As you pursue your freelance work, you can keep moving forward, keep growing, and keep striving for a brighter future. With enough perseverance, you may just be able to make freelancing your fulltime — and only — job


P.S. Here is a tool you might also find helpful; :https://www.websiteplanet.com/blog/ultimate-guide-to-being-a-freelancer/