TCC Podcast #380: Writing for Non-Profits with Shterna Lazaroff - The Copywriter Club
TCC Podcast #380: Writing for Non-Profits with Shterna Lazaroff

Is writing for non-profit organizations any different from writing for other businesses or clients? It turns out, the answer is “yes”. Because most of the time your “customer” won’t receive a product or service when they “buy”. And that means you need to be very good at providing the experiences and stories they want in the copy you write. Our guest for the 380th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast is Shterna Lazaroff and she’s got a lot to say on the topic, so stay tune

Click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.

The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:

The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground

Full Transcript:

Rob Marsh: If you’re looking for a niche with lots of clients and plenty of money to spend, you could do a lot worse than writing for the nonprofit sector. As of a couple of years ago, there were more than 1.49 million charitable organizations in the United States alone and hundreds of thousands more in other countries. And spending at nonprofits accounts for more than $2.46 trillion. And that, again, is just in the United States. If you add in all of the other countries in the world, it’s double or triple that. And some portion of that is paid to copywriters. 

Hi, I’m Rob Marsh, one of the founders of The Copywriter Club. And on today’s episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, my co-founder, Kara Hug, and I interviewed Shterna Lazaroff, who has spent a good part of her career focused on fundraising and helping nonprofits succeed. While many of the principles of good copywriting apply to writing for charity, Shterna tells us that there are a few differences, so you may want to stick around to hear what they are and perhaps use that knowledge to land a client in the nonprofit world for yourself. 

Now, this is where I usually break in and talk a bit about the Copywriter Underground. I could do that again. I could tell you about the training. I could tell you about the community. I could tell you about the copy critiques, the copy coaching that happens there every month. You’ve heard me talk about all of that stuff before. So my real question for you is what are you waiting for? What is keeping you from going to and at least checking out all the resources that are listed there? 

There’s a ton of information there about what it includes and what being a member will get you. And just, you know, as a selfish point, being a member is a great way to support this podcast and all the other resources that we provide for copywriters and content writers. So that URL again to visit, check it out. And if it’s a fit for you, join, join the more than 200 other copywriters in there who are working hard to build a successful business. 

Now let’s jump into our interview with Sterna Lazaroff.

Kira Hug: All right, let’s kick off as we do with your story. How did you end up as a copywriter?

Shterna Lazaroff: So every job I’ve ever had has always had what to do with writing. I was always like the family writer, the one doing every time someone in the family needed something. So when I first was looking for my first job, just ended up was actually the editor of my high school magazine was working at like a small local kids magazine and I had worked with her in high school. She reached out, she’s like, Hey, do you want a job editing for me? So that was my first, first job ever. And I had always wanted to be a writer. It was always like when I was younger and you asked me what I wanted to do, I always said I wanted to be a writer. But there was this conception that like everyone used to tell me like writers don’t make money and it’s not really sustainable income and all that. And then When I left this magazine after two years, I had this period of like, I don’t know what to do next. And I was still very young. And I remember having this realization. I was like, wait, I just spent two years hiring writers. Why can’t I be one of the writers that people are hiring? 

I had until then thought that the pretty much the only way to use like my writing skills was on the editorial side because writers don’t make money and I was like I’m paying them money so I’ll be the one who’s getting paid and so I started writing um I started writing actually the first few things I started with were articles for two of the biggest Jewish magazines that are distributed globally like hundreds of thousands of families read them every week. And I basically started writing for those and eventually discovered copywriting. I had started working part-time in a nonprofit. And as I was researching all the writing work I was doing for them, they were just like, we need an in-house writer. And I was like, sure, I could write. And I like nonprofits. I actually discovered that what I was doing was this thing called copywriting. And that’s when I kind of went full force in and took it from there.

Rob Marsh: Talk a little bit about that shift from the content you’re writing to copywriting, because oftentimes people talk about them being different skills. I actually don’t think they’re all that different. I think I’ve been vocal about that in the past. But as you started to make that shift, what did you have to do differently? What kinds of things were you trying to teach yourself and learn so that you could apply those skills in a new way?

Shterna Lazaroff: It’s a good question. A lot of the core things overlap, like I would say the ability to write under tight constraints or with a tight work hand or to communicate something under very specific guidelines is something that definitely overlaps from content to copy. The main difference is probably that with content, I think you have a bit more leeway to make the takeaway be whatever you want it to be, as opposed to with copy, there’s usually a very clear end goal. You’re putting that piece out because there’s something you want from it, as opposed to with content, or at least the kind of content I was doing as a magazine writer, I was doing a lot of feature lifestyle pieces. It was really just the goal was to entertain. And with copy, the goal is really to not just give people a good way to spend a half hour reading, but to actually get them to do something with what you’re saying. So there was a bit more like focused on like with every word that you’re writing, you’re really thinking about like, is this moving me forward to what we want to happen because of this piece?

Kira Hug: Yeah. And with entertainment, I mean, I think entertaining can be hard. So what is something, how do you think about entertaining in your content and your copy? Like what are some of your, I don’t want to call them tricks. What, how do you approach it?

Shterna Lazaroff: I think it’s, it overlaps with the reason why I chose my niche in nonprofit copywriting where as a content writer, I was, I always loved telling people’s stories and, and writing those things, someone who had like a very interesting life or did something of real impact and featuring it and giving a spotlight to that. And so the skills that I was using a lot were like these very strong storytelling skills and really drawing people into the narrative and making them feel whatever I wanted them to feel at the time. And it’s one of the reasons that I think I was very drawn to nonprofit copywriting aside from, you know, the mission. And I like knowing that my work is meaningful, but I think that the skills actually overlap a lot. And this is something that I’ve had a few arguments with people about, but I, I would argue that nonprofit copywriting more than other niches, relies very, very much on specifically strong writing skills. I think there are a lot of industries in the copy world where you can, you always have to have a basic level of strong writing, but you can compensate for weaker writing skills in terms of having a really good like CRO background or a lot of industry knowledge and a lot of copy conversion skills, as opposed to nonprofit copywriting, where of course all of that comes in. But at the end of the day, the narrative and the emotion and all of that that you’re bringing into it is very much going to weigh heavily on the level of writing skill you bring to the table. So that was something that very much overlaps between the both of them.

Rob Marsh: That makes a lot of sense because with most non-profits, you’re not really getting anything in return for what you spend as opposed to if you’re buying a course or a book or a vacation or whatever. What you’re buying is that experience of giving. So I, I’m curious, like, okay, in addition to just like storytelling or being very emotional, are there other things that you’re thinking about when you’re writing for, you know, a nonprofit clients that you’re making that experience of engaging with the, you know the letter, the request for funding or, you know, the donation letter, whatever that is so that that actually becomes an experience.

Shterna Lazaroff: So I lean very heavily back on what we were saying, which is the storytelling part of it, the really drawing people in with like a strong hook, a strong narrative, something that immediately puts them in that person’s shoes or in that situation where they can feel everything you want them to feel so that there’s no doubt in their mind that this is something that they can, not only they can, that they want to be part of in a transformation they want to make possible. Other than that, copywriting, I’m saying I borrow a lot from just typical conversion skills where let’s say building in, I wouldn’t say scarcity, but always having, answering the question of why now. There always has to be a reason where like some sort of urgency of, oh, here’s a reason why you should not just read this letter and be inspired, but read this letter and know that the opportunity to make this specific change is running out. So just really for me a huge part of like leaning into this niche was taking everything I’ve learned in the skills in the courses that an education I’ve had as a copywriter and learning how to make those more non-profit aligned.

Kira Hug: Can you provide an example if anything comes to mind as far as like the narrative part and the emotional side that you were speaking to like where you want to put the reader in the you know the place of someone who’s experienced whatever the cause is like how how do you do that and do you have an example?

Shterna Lazaroff: So very often with a fundraising letter, it would be starting with a story or a quote, like dropping them straight into the middle of what’s happening. And like starting with a scene as opposed to the hook will very often be a story or a scene. or very often when I’m working on brochures or websites, a lot of the copy will also tell a story where let’s say the PAS, like when we’re starting the framework and we’re building out the beginning of the website, the homepage, instead of the PAS being like people are struggling with X, Y, Z, but like telling that in like very vivid imagery and with details and with specifics and with dialogue and really like building a story that when someone reads the homepage of a of a website or is reading the campaign page for a fundraiser they are actually reading a story of something that they get to be a part of but it’s it’s not just here’s bullets of what’s happening and and what’s going on but really again drawing on like the strong writing skills of you need to use all those vivid verbs and all those tricks that are somewhat basic in terms of they’re the things they tell you if you want to be a strong writer, this is what you use. I think they very, very much come into play here.

Rob Marsh: Yeah, that makes sense. So are there any oddities in working with clients in the nonprofit space. You know, things that you need to keep in mind as you’re selling your services or as you’re approaching working with them that are different from clients in other regular niches.

Shterna Lazaroff: So to be completely honest, I haven’t really worked so much with other niches to draw a very strong comparison, but I know just from what I have done, I would say one of the biggest things to keep in mind is The whole nonprofit world as a whole has sort of a brand where the brand is that we’re here to do good and we’re here to do better. And a lot of the like heavy selling or strong like emotional manipulation just doesn’t feel aligned when it comes to nonprofits. And so that’s why I was saying before that a lot of what I spent a long time doing is working out like how can I take these same skills and the same like tricks of the trade and take the best parts of them, but also specifically the parts that feel on brand to what a nonprofit is. So for example, confirm shaming. I mean, I think in general, people are moving away from that practice, but confirm shaming would be where you have someone confirm that they’re about to do something wrong. So let’s say if they’re about to click off a donate page, it would say something like, no, I don’t want to help the starving children in Africa. And that’s something that technically, like I’m pretty sure the studies say that it works, but it’s not on brand to who nonprofits are as a whole. And obviously there are the exceptions with some nonprofits will have like snarkier style or that kind of thing. But in general, knowing what those, those knowing how to take everything that works, might work otherwise, and say like, does this actually align with the mission and the vision of who the nonprofit world is and what the nonprofit world’s trying to accomplish?

Kira Hug: Yeah, it’s almost like you have your own filter and you have to run through as you continue to learn and improve as a writer, you have to run everything you learn through that filter to see if it makes sense for the nonprofit space.

Shterna Lazaroff: By the way, to continue that, in many ways, I think people assume that the nonprofit world is very different in terms of, let’s say, me as a service provider. closing packages or selling a service to a nonprofit where this like scarcity mindset come into play where like, no, they don’t have money, we can’t ask but In many ways, the savvy nonprofits invest in fundraising the same way a savvy business will invest in selling in their sales process. This is the funnel that supports the work they do. The savvy nonprofits know that, so it’s just a matter of getting in front of the ones who are not going to be all nickel and dimey and say things like, no, you can’t charge us because if you charge us, it means we can give one less pair of shoes to a kid who needs it. The savvy ones, the same way you can also find services, businesses that will say things like that, like, we can’t do it because we need to focus on X, Y, Z. We don’t have the budget. The savvier nonprofits do have that budget. So in that sense, like, the sales process is not necessarily so different. It’s more that the conversation, the nuance of what you’re discussing and how might just be altered because it’s a different industry than some other industries are.

Kira Hug: Yeah. And I can imagine from a couple of the nonprofits I’ve worked with a decade ago where you can have a really powerful board of directors too. And they want to see results with fundraising campaigns. So if you’re running that team, you’re not going to hire a copywriter for $10 an hour. You’re going to invest because your job depends on getting that return. I didn’t know you worked with nonprofits. I did, two different ones. Yeah. That’s so cool. Yeah, I’ve got nonprofit stories. Yeah, so I think they are incentivized. And I think that’s a really good reminder, because even though I’ve worked for nonprofits, I’ve thought that before. Like, is that a space that we’ll be able to pay? Is that a lucrative niche to go into? Even though I know it is, I think it’s really easy to assume that and make those assumptions incorrectly. Let’s go back to your story. And when you went all in, you know, we kind of cut off there. But once you decided, okay, I am a copywriter, I want to work in the nonprofit space. How did you get that community and that network and land those projects and find those nonprofits that are able to invest?

Shterna Lazaroff: So it was a bit of a, I would say a long winded road in the sense that when I first decided that I was going all in as a copywriter, I actually first got an agency job. I didn’t go out on my own first. Happens to be that the agency I worked at did a lot of work with nonprofits, which kind of just solidified for me what I had always known, which is that I loved working with nonprofits. But there was a period of time when it wasn’t the only kind of project I was working on. What the benefit was for me that when I left that agency after two years, I had significant experience, but something that people can struggle with sometimes is they can have very strong skills, but it’s hard to have anything to show for them. Like when you’re just getting started in the industry or just moving to a new niche. And here, even though I was somewhat new to running my own business and running my own entity, I had the samples from this. agency that I was able to show that, hey, look, these are some projects I’ve worked on. I had worked on projects there that raised million, one project we did, I think raised $72 million over 18 months. Significant, significant projects. So I really, I had what to show. And I think that that made the jump into going out fully, fully on my own, which I only did a year, 12 months ago. made it slightly easier because when I was doing that, I wasn’t starting from scratch in terms of, Oh, I’m just moving into a new industry or a new niche and having nothing to show for it. The only thing I didn’t have tons of experience with was the business end of it. But at that point I had the samples and I also felt like I really had the copy skills to bring to the table.

Rob Marsh: And at the same time, did you have the opportunity to build a network of potential contacts while you were at the agency, or did you have to go find those on your own as you went out to do your own work?

Shterna Lazaroff: So my network is something that I was building over the years in general. Um, so definitely the agency and I have a lot of gratitude to the boss I used to work with because he actually would send clients to me. People would reach out to him. I’d say he was a full service agency, so he would offer copy and design and web development and all of that. And if clients would come to him and just need a nonprofit copywriting, he would say, I have this great copywriter who worked for me. Sure. Not go straight to her. So that was something that I had done, um, slowly over the years. Also just the network of copywriters I trained with and, you know, grew up with in the copy world. Oh, there was a certain point in time. It’s not so true anymore because as my business has grown, I’ve focused on other areas of, of lead generation as well. But there was a point in time when I was able to say that every single project I worked on was either a repeat client or a referral from either a client, but very often also just other copywriters in my network who, and I think this is also where the fact that I had a very strong niche very early on was a benefit. When people would hear nonprofit and copywriting, they automatically associated, okay, send to Sterna, go to Sterna. And I think that ended up being a huge source of network and contacts for me as I grew.

Rob Marsh: Let’s talk a little bit more about that advantage that choosing a niche gives. So I know you, in some ways, you kind of accidentally fell into the nonprofits through your agency experience, but how else have you thought about niching to make sure that people are finding you and associating you with the thing that you do, nonprofit copy?

Shterna Lazaroff: So a very simple thing is, you know, recently I’ve been active on LinkedIn and even if I’m posting content that’s broader or just more marketing, um, you know, it’s beneficial to anyone who’s in marketing or anyone who’s in copywriting. The examples I bring will always be from the nonprofit industry or the nonprofit sector. And, or when I’m talking about like, you know, securing sales, I’ll say like nurturing donors, always using the language that just, it could be a very subtle thing, but when someone reads my post, they’re like, oh, nonprofits, they see those terms. So even if they’re gaining on a broader perspective, they’re still associating, making that link of, oh, starting a nonprofit. And just really anytime, you know, any slack groups that I’m on, if there’s a conversation about nonprofits, I’ll make an effort to specifically jump into those and show up as the expert in those conversations. And. The great thing about niching, I mean I know you guys are fans of niching, I’m pretty sure anyone who, most people are, but it really also just allows you to not only show up as an expert but really become the expert because you’re working on similar projects or similar, in a similar industry on repeat, on repeat, on repeat, you actually get to know those a lot better and you actually get to do a better job at them. So it’s not just that people come to you because you’ve created a brand around that. You can actually stand behind that brand with confidence because you know that you have the experience to, you know, it’s not just you’re the nonprofit copywriter. We actually have the experience to prove that and the expertise to stand behind that title.

Kira Hug: Let’s also talk about the creative ways you’ve landed projects, because I know, you know, we’ve chatted in the think tank about some of these ways, but I think you really approach client acquisition from a creative, out of the box way. So maybe you can provide an example or two.

Shterna Lazaroff: Yeah. So this goes back to like a bigger thing, which is at the beginning, it almost felt a little bit distracting, all the different things you could try and the different ways you could do and work on your business and the different ends you could develop and different things you could fine tune. And I remember having this realization at one point where like, I don’t actually want to have to work more than I have to work. I love my job. I love what I do. I was like, I want to focus on things that are going to really get me to what the bottom line is. And I was like, OK, so I could create all these forms of lead gen. The main thing that I want to do is I want to connect not just with other professionals in the nonprofit field, but I actually want to get on the phone with these nonprofit development directors or CEOs or founders who are actually the people who are an ideal target, an ideal client for the kind of work I could provide. So I tried to think of ways that basically, I was like, how can I get on the phone with these people? And in a way that would, obviously, I need to provide value to them. So the story just makes me laugh, actually, because whatever. I had this idea of starting a podcast. And I was like, the podcast is not, I don’t care how many people listen to it, it’s not for the listeners. It’s a way for me to have a phone conversation with the people who I want to have a phone conversation with. So you guys were actually very encouraging and I worked on it. I recorded the first few episodes. It didn’t actually start airing yet because I was planning to launch October and then war broke out in Israel and it just felt wrong to like launch a new product. But the funniest thing was that one of the people who I had on that call was actually the first interview that I did. At the end of the interview, I spoke to him for 40 minutes about his nonprofit and the different creative ways that he brings donors in his door. And at the end, he basically was like, can we go off the record for a second? I’m pretty impressed with the questions you asked and what you brought to the table in this conversation. I have this project in mind. Can you work on it for me? So I was laughing and I told my project manager after it, I was like, we don’t even have to air the episodes. It’s fine. Like the podcast is already, it’s already doing what I wanted it to do. And then the followup to that conversation is that another nonprofit saw this project I did for the nonprofit who was on my podcast and actually reached out and was like, Hey, we saw the project you did for XYZ. Can you work on something similar for us? So I was like, Oh, all the more reason not to actually air the episodes because like, accomplish my mission. It’s already become a source of lead generation for me. So yeah, that was definitely one fun, and I do still plan to release the episodes, especially because they’re anyway recorded might as well. But yeah, and I think it’s just to, it’s, when you’re thinking about what next steps to take in your business, you always want to keep your eye on what is my ultimate goal here and what am I trying to do and like not have shiny object syndrome where it’s like, oh, this looks fun or that person’s doing that. It’s really sit down and say like, what are the results that I need to move my business forward and then how can I get those results even if they’re not necessarily the most typical or out there way or the most done and seen around, but it’s like if this is something that could work for you and that could move that bottom line that you want, which in my case, I was like, I want to be talking to more of my ideal clients. How can I speak to more of my ideal clients? And really just using that as the basis as opposed to getting distracted or running in a whole bunch of different directions that might not actually bring immediate value to your business.

Kira Hug: So I love this story because you may have the most profitable podcast that ever did not exist. But what is so great about this example is that you are, I mean, there are many different types of personalities of copywriters out there, but you are someone who is not afraid to get on a call with a prospect and that is where you shine. And I think, you know, oftentimes it’s like we, find it so easy to stay busy with all the things we think we should be doing just so that we don’t have to actually get in front of our ideal client and actually like sell to them or not even sell to them, just be in front of them. But you just kind of cut through all the noise and go directly to your ideal client and make that connection, which has paid off in so many ways. And so I love the simplicity behind it. I guess the question in here is like, could you just talk through the way that you showed up in that interview, that podcast interview that wasn’t aired, because clearly that worked. And I think there are many copywriters who could do the same thing and it might not land or turn into a project. So I’m sure there were, you know, things you were doing in that interview or leading up to it that were really impressive and helped turn that into a project.

Shterna Lazaroff: So there, it’s a good question. There are two main things that come to mind. First of all, because again, I had this bottom line in mind the whole time when I was formulating my questions for the interviews, I was actually thinking of how can I show that I know what I’m talking about in this industry. So the questions I were asking were not necessarily, um, base level or get to know you questions. I jumped straight into like the bottom line of their nonprofit and also didn’t shy away from asking questions that were a little bit more technical or complex in background or scope as a way to just show, hey, I know I have experience here. I can ask these questions because I have the background knowledge on them. And another thing is that in the podcast, each episode is around 30 minutes. But my phone call with each of these nonprofit founders was closer to, I would say, an hour, an hour and a half. And part of the reason why I scheduled that time in is because I let myself get off topic if it felt relevant. So I was on the phone with someone who was mentioning this specific campaign that brought in tons of new donors, one-time donors. And then I asked him on the podcast, I was like, by the way, what did you do about like, how are you engaging these donors now? How are you keeping them involved now? And had like a good 20 minute conversation with him about ways that he can keep those donors as active donors, not just one time and then they fall off the email list or churn right out. And I cut that out of the episode because a lot of it was very technical and getting into what might be proprietary about the nonprofit, but it was a way that by the time we hung up the phone call, he had a little bit of understanding of where my expertise lies or what I could bring to the table for him, even though there was not a single point in any of those conversations where I sold a service or brought my services to the table or spoke about them at all. It was more just showing up as an expert in a one-on-one conversation with these people.

Rob Marsh: While we’re talking about the podcast or the, the non-cast, um, I’m curious, you know, as you were thinking about the people that you want to talk to, clearly they’re in your niche, but was there anything else that went into consideration before you reached out to them to, to have that conversation? Just in terms of like, you know, they’re going to be a great guest or that they’re going to share something specific based off of the kind of work that they’re doing, or was it just like, Oh, here’s a company I want to work with. I’m going to reach out to them.

Shterna Lazaroff: So it was, I specifically, you know, I said that my goal was never really listeners, but at the same time, I was like, if I’m putting this work in, I want it to be something that’s interesting and valuable to people. So I really focused all my interviewees on people who had a specific, interesting approach to bringing donors into their nonprofit. So if they ran a slightly out of the box campaign or, um, fundraised in a way that wasn’t typical at the time, or the first of their kind to do a peer-to-peer matching campaign, all-or-nothing campaign, all those kind of campaigns, so that we could talk about those more specific things rather than … I didn’t really talk so much about like, oh, tell me the story of your nonprofit and how it got started. Enough to give context to the nonprofit, but it’s not like a storytelling podcast. concrete tips, information, high level strategy podcast.

Kira Hug: So I feel like the theme here, and just again, just knowing you, I feel like the theme is that you’re focused on, you know, efficiencies and you know, almost like multi-purpose marketing. And, you know, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong here, but like, I feel like it is doing it smarter and thinking strategically about everything you’re doing in your business. So do you have other examples of how you’re doing that? I mean, I can think of another example. Tell me. Well, I’m just thinking about how we’ve talked about you teaching in some of our different programs. And your response was like, yes, of course, I want to do that. But also let me think about this strategically to think about what I could create that I could also recycle and use again on another platform so that this makes sense for me. And that’s, it’s so smart. And, but I also think about all the times, you know, I’ve created presentations that I just like create from scratch. And then I do it one time and then it goes on a shelf and I never touch it again. And it’s, it’s a, it’s a waste in many ways. Uh, so I guess because you think that way, I’m just curious, like, are there other things you’re doing in your business that we could possibly, you know, borrow?

Shterna Lazaroff: So, well, by the way, for context on that, I said this before, like, I love my job. I love what I do. I love what I get to do every day. I love the people I work with, but I don’t want to be working more than I have to. Like I’m not working to work. I’m working to have a life. And so that’s why I, like, I’m a little bit of a, I don’t know, a lion about my time because I’m like, if I could do one thing and get double value out of it, that’s just a better use of my time than doing one thing and only being able to use it once. So with everything, I’m always looking at what are the processes or systems I could put in place of making things more efficient or more structured or better run next time. The main example of that that comes up isn’t even so creative but basically the biggest change I would say I made to my business in like the last few months was hiring a project manager and it was part of that mindset where I want to be able to use my time as wisely as possible, so anything that can be outsourced, I want to outsource. And I have an amazing project manager who works with me, and anything that can be handed off to her, I try to hand off because it then means that my time, I could be working on things that I’m less replaceable at, things that, you know, the business needs me for as opposed to a part of the business that someone else can fill in.

Rob Marsh: So yeah, I’ll come back to your project manager because I think there’s maybe some good questions around that. But before we leave off on some of the other things you’ve been doing in your business, in addition to the podcast, I know you’ve also thought a little bit about like some memberships and some continuing product type services that you can offer your clients. We just talk a little bit about the thought process that you have as you’re thinking about your business, how you make it work for yourself and how you’re maybe developing some one-to-many type products to help you grow.

Shterna Lazaroff: Yeah, so that was one of my big goals for the year, because I actually loved working at an agency. And in theory, I would have continued that. But with an agency, you’re capped at the most you’ll ever earn is really a salary. And I wanted something that would allow my business to kind of ebb and flow as my life does. As my family grows, I would be able to take more time on or off, depending on what stage in life I’m at at each stage. So there was that part and then there was this other part where I’m very drawn to the nonprofit world because I care about the work that people in the nonprofit industry do. The community that I grew up in, the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish community, there are a lot of people who are very engaged in outreach centers around the world. And there are 5,000 of these nonprofits called Chabad Houses that are literally, I’m pretty sure there’s none in Antarctica, but like in every one of the 50 states and pretty much every country from like Uganda, Africa to Tasmania. And a lot of these houses work on a very shoestring budget. And I wanted to be able to bring, you know, a lot of them are also slightly old school in their approach to things because they just don’t have access to the tools or the expertise in the ways that the nonprofit world has like really evolved over the years. So these two things came together where I was like, I want to be able to help this industry, but a lot of them don’t necessarily have the budget or the resources to engage my services. And not only that, but like, they don’t necessarily need the full scope of what I can provide for them. Like a lot of them need more just basic, getting a solid donor plan off the ground. And then also wanting to build something that has the ability to scale. So these two kind of came together and because, you know, it’s a real blessing that this industry is so niche in the sense that I could create one product and really reuse it for so many people. All these Chabad houses could use a very similar product. So I started creating templates for them. So fundraising templates around the big times of the year when they run major campaigns, so before the high holidays in September, just did one for the year-end campaign in December. Basically creating a template that is very affordable from their end and from my end is somewhat worth my time because I’m focusing on numbers rather than the price of the product sold. I did originally have the idea where I wanted to do this as a monthly membership and as I was going along, and this is one of the learning curves of the last six to eight months, realized that my original plan wasn’t necessarily It’s not so much that it wasn’t sustainable, I would say that the message of how to market it was extremely complex. And it was a much harder sell than, you know, I basically for context, I wanted to do a library that would just have access to hundreds and hundreds of templates that are constantly add all the templates they might need for not only fundraising, but also nurturing donors. And I eventually realized that to make it worthwhile for the value that they would get, the price that I would have to charge, you know, basically the, I’m not explaining it, but like the product and the market as in that structure didn’t really make so much sense.

Kira Hug: Sounds like there wasn’t a product market fit with that model, right?

Shterna Lazaroff: It’s not so much that it was a product market fit because the interesting thing is that what I’m doing right now in terms of the actual product I’m delivering is pretty similar to the original idea I had in mind. The switch I made is that For me to have made it worthwhile for me, you know, if I was going to give people access to hundreds of templates, I needed them to sign up for at least a year because otherwise they would come in, technically they could get all the value they want and leave. The thing is, to make it a monthly membership, the price I would have to charge, there’s a little bit of sticker shock around that. It would be just a higher number. You know, even if I was charging something like $50 a month, but for someone to come and say, oh, I need to pay $600 felt like a lot. As opposed to the way I structure it now where I started selling individual templates or template packages, so you can still download a lot of those original templates I created for the membership, but on a very low one price per template or the more complex packages charging a bit higher. In theory, people are actually spending the same amount over the year, but the structure of how they’re paying for it is broken down in a way that essentially just avoids the sticker shock. So that was, I had to realize that and learn that and evolve my business model around that.

Kira Hug: Maybe you can just kind of quickly share, you’ve had a lot of success with this. So I think before I ask you a follow-up question, I just would love for you to brag a little bit about what you’ve been able to do. I know you’ve had two successful launches.

Shterna Lazaroff: Yeah, thank God. So my first launch was extremely stressful. And Part of it was that I had traveled. I live in Israel. I had traveled to America. And because it was tied down to the calendar, I wasn’t really active in my business at the time that it was launching. And I didn’t really have so much time to focus on it. And also, it was just my first time doing it. So a lot of it was new. It was extremely, extremely overwhelming. I had this email list that I had started and then never nurtured at all. And I basically, there were a few hundred people on there and I emailed them and I was like, Hey, I’m selling this product, you know, better copy terms. But. did that and thank God I sold quite a significant amount of packages. And, but like when it ended, honestly, I was like, I’m not doing this again for a year. Like I was, I was drained. I was, I was so over it. But then after the holidays ended and you know, all the high holidays and I started getting the feedback from people who had used the packages and that really like lit a spark under me again. I was like, you know, seeing how your work was used and that it was doing exactly what I wanted it to do, which was giving people with a smaller budget access to proven tools and methods and writing that would really help them, but in a way that they could afford. So they were able to help their smaller nonprofits without having to pay for the higher pricing. And so that really like lit a fire underneath me again. And then but I still I was like, I don’t know, I need a break. I don’t know that I could do this again. And then November time, someone who had bought the high holidays package in September emailed and was like, Hey, are you doing a year end package? And I was not planning on doing one. And in a moment of sheer stupidity, I emailed back and I was like, yeah, I am. It’s going to launch in two weeks. And then I basically gave, I forced myself into a two week deadline and I launched the December package, the year end package. And I doubled my numbers from the high holiday package and. you know, now I got a little bit smarter. I’ve, I immediately like printed and saved all the feedback. I was like, so I, but also the second launch was a lot easier because a lot of the tech end or just, you know, the learning curve of your first time doing something was taken care of, you know, setting up the whole platform and all the sequences and the tagging, like a lot of just the nitty gritty work that you need to do when you’re selling a digital product. were able to just like copy paste those systems and just tweak the things we wanted to change but just put them in place again and I think I spent like half the amount of time on the launch. I also because I was doing it so last minute and hadn’t originally planned to do it, and I promised myself that I was only going to do it if it was low stress, I cut certain parts out of the process where I did not market the product anywhere other than my list. I just emailed my list about it. And the interesting thing was that I still got a lot of word of mouth referrals, people who bought the product who hadn’t been on my email list. And that’s also the value of working in such a tight knit niche that doesn’t necessarily overlap. They were, people were very happy to refer their friends and say, Hey, there’s this great product I heard about. Um, but I also, my sales page was a Google doc. I didn’t design it. I didn’t get it designed. Like I didn’t want to spend the time doing it myself. I didn’t want to spend the money of getting someone else to do it. The time it took me to write it, I added on another hour for like making sure there were like headings and font styles and whatever. And then that was my launch. And thank God.

Kira Hug: And it was a beautiful, beautiful Google Doc. Well done. So the follow-up question is just like, what advice or tips would you give to someone who is thinking about launching a product as kind of a secondary business based off your experiences? They haven’t done it yet. They want to skip all the heartache. What would you suggest they think about or do?

Shterna Lazaroff: So I wonder, I’m actually curious what you guys think. I feel like a certain level of the heartache is just par for the course where just the learning curve of you learning your way around a new platform and a new system. Practical things you could do is don’t do it as last minute as I did because, I mean we could get into this more, but there was actually a time when I was like doubting this whole product in general and wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, which is why also the high holiday package I pulled together super last minute. So I would say don’t do that. Give yourself a little bit more time and that way you have the buffer zone for things that might take longer or might need to be redone or just might need some assistance or restructuring, the best things you could do I would say is listen to your audience in terms of what they’re asking for. So actually the whole idea of doing a high holiday fundraising package started a year ago during the high holidays, so at this point like 15 months ago, when one of my husband’s friends who knows that I’m a writer reached out and was like, hey, can your wife write a letter for me? And I was like, no, I’m not. In my mind, I was like, I don’t work with tiny nonprofits who can only afford XYZ. It’s not worth my time. That’s not where I focus my energy. As much as I want to help them, I have to think about the bottom line of moving my own business and my personal life forward in the ways I want to. And then I was thinking about it more and I was like, actually, it’s not such a crazy idea. And actually, so the whole idea for everything that I ended up doing very much came from the people in my audience. And I think that if you listen, they very often will tell you what they want. And so I’ve gotten in the habit of if someone reaches out and says, hey, do you do XYZ service or can you help me with this and that, even if it’s not something I currently do. I had a phone call today with someone who had reached out. Someone from this very niche audience had reached out and said, hey, can you help me with something? And I said, it’s not currently something I do, but if you’re open to getting on the phone with me, I’d love to hear about what you have in mind. And by the end of this 25-minute phone call with him, which he was very gracious and got on knowing that I wasn’t necessarily going to commit to help him, I had like two new product ideas of ways that I can help this audience in a way that works for both of us. So I think just really listening to what people are telling you, you know, your best business ideas come from the people who will need your business and will need your service.

Kira Hug: I have a question related to, related to mindset. And so, you know, you have OK, I have a couple of questions related to this, actually. You have two audiences now. So you have your product-based audience, and then you have your nonprofit, kind of like higher ticket audience. So as someone who is efficient and thinks strategically about how to get things done in less time, more time for living and less time for working, how do you now think about managing and kind of nurturing two audiences? How are you? Because I think this is also relatable to a lot of copywriters who end up with two audiences and two different sides of their business, their business.

Shterna Lazaroff: Honestly, it’s a challenge. It’s one of the things I’m really trying to double down on because I’m selling two different price points, which means two different audiences, two different messages. And it’s also confusing because a lot of people, you know, I don’t want to have to get into like sticky conversations with people who, you know, bought one of my templates, which are extremely affordable. And then they come and they ask about like an annual campaign package or an annual report that they want done like fully custom. And just the price point for that kind of product is extremely different than the product I offer in the template thing. Um, and it’s something that I, I would say I’m actively working on how to fine tune that. One of the biggest things that I’ve done is first of all, just building my email list and deciding which audience I’m speaking to on which platform. So right now, and this is probably very subject to change, um, the nonprofit clients I speak to on LinkedIn and. this more niche audience I speak to on my email list. It’s more of a cozy corner. But I also try to focus on products that could bring value to both. So let’s say I’m working on annual reports now. This is a season in the nonprofit world. So I created a guide to writing your own nonprofit annual report, which For one end of my business was a way to bring clients in the door. And for the other end of my business was just a way to bring value to the people on my list. I was anyway creating this guide. It’s something that can help them also. So I sent it to them with a slightly different email that didn’t necessarily mention the fact that I do this as a service. but was just here’s something valuable and helpful that you can use in your own nonprofit as you prepare for the season. So again, just focusing on, I’d say almost like the lowest common denominator between the two of like, where do these two audiences overlap and focusing on resources that fit in that part of the Venn diagram and then just catering the messaging or tweaking it slightly for each.

Kira Hug: OK, yeah, that’s helpful. And if I am thinking about writing for the nonprofit space, whether I’m new or I’ve been writing for a while, what are some of the core packages or deliverables that you know are just always needed? And maybe they’re so obvious to you, like the annual report you’ve mentioned. But what else is just a go-to deliverable that we could pitch and probably have some level of success?

Shterna Lazaroff: So a very straightforward one, because it’s usually a pretty straightforward project and also a lower priced project, is a fundraising letter. So either direct mail or an email for a specific campaign. There’s also a lot of just ongoing donor nurture content. a savvy nonprofit will have regular touch points with all their donors, and those will be catered usually based on what level donor they are, what tier that donor falls into. So they might want specific reports for just getting blasted on email every week versus a more in-depth technical report that might break down some more of the numbers or anything like that for their bigger donors, their major gifters. So that’s another thing. Then there are the classics, like websites, email sequences, like a nonprofit, a welcome sequence for as soon as someone gives for the first time, their thank you letter, their automated thank you emails, and then a lot of seasonal stuff. So the same way in e-com you’ll have Black Friday, Cyber Monday, in the nonprofit world there’s Giving Tuesday and there are all the seasons where there are specific campaigns going on, capital campaigns. trying to think of like what’s on my roster right now. Brochures, not everything I do is actually connected directly to fundraising. A lot of times it’s just connected to helping them grow the nonprofit. So let’s say recruiting donors or helping people understand exactly the services they provide and why those services can help them. So a lot of content around that. Yeah, I’m trying to think what else? It’s probably a pretty good overview.

Rob Marsh: So yeah, the question is, Kira, do you have enough to break into the nonprofit writing world now?

Kira Hug: Do I have enough?

Rob Marsh: Yeah. Is that enough ideas for you?

Kira Hug: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s, it’s plenty. Like I think it’s a really, it’s just such a great reminder speaking to you that this is a valuable niche. And there again, there’s money and there are clear deliverables and problems that need solved throughout the year. So I think it’s such a great option for writers who maybe are looking for a new niche or maybe are kind of straddling two different niches because sometimes one is busier than the other. So it’s a great option.

Shterna Lazaroff: If you’re thinking about becoming a nonprofit copywriter, definitely do it.

Kira Hug: OK, well, before we wrap, I just want to ask, Like two more quick questions, lightning round style. So, you know, we’ve shared a lot of wins and so much of what you’re doing, you know, thinking strategically, having these successes, which is wonderful, but you know, we all have struggles. So what is one struggle that you’ve dealt with or you’re still dealing with or you overcame over the last year?

Shterna Lazaroff: Well, you said this is lightning round, but I have a lot. I don’t know how to do a lightning round. I don’t understand. Sorry. Yeah, well, I would say the biggest one is I always had this dream of creating this some kind of way to service this audience that was very important to me. But I also really struggled with the idea of getting out in front of them as someone who was charging. and asking for money for a product because it’s a very selfless community and people are very benevolent and anyone who goes into that kind of world of like most people who go into the non-profit sector know that they will never really be rich. That’s not why they’re doing it. I really had a hard time and also because this is a community I come from where a lot of the people running these Chabad houses are my neighbors and my cousins and my relatives. I really struggled with the idea of like bringing business so close to home. Um, and that was part of the reason why I ended up doing it so last minute because I really kept pushing it off. I was like, I can’t do this. It’s so uncomfortable. People are going to start calculating how much money I’m making and they’re going to start like, I just, the whole thing really, I had a very, very hard time with it. Um, and I pushed it off and I pushed it off and I pushed it off. And because the campaigns I had in mind, you know, I want to do this high holiday package. I knew that if I didn’t do it, it would be another 12 months until I could do it again. And that was basically what pushed me to finally just do it. And I was like, close your eyes. You might cringe the whole thing, but just try it out. Just see where it goes. Um, and I ended up doing it. Like I said, it was a lot of work, but the feedback really helps me find my place in this where it’s like, help me work out that yes, there is something slightly uncomfortable about charging people who are close to you, but at the same time, they’re choosing to do it because it’s worthwhile for them and it’s an investment that’s bringing them value. That being said, there were a few things I made sure to do in my messaging that just made the whole process of selling a little bit more comfortable for me. didn’t lean heavy on any sales tactic or selling. There was the classic fast action bonus, like we signed up right away, but I tried not to have any copy that was, oh, do this and you’ll make X, Y, Z in donations and it will bring you, I don’t know, millions of dollars. May that be the case for everyone. Even though there were certain promises that I was comfortable making in the sense that I believed in the product I was creating enough to make those promises, I still wanted to make sure that I didn’t come across as salesy in any way. And so my messaging was very just like, Hey, here’s a product I created that might be helpful. If you’re interested, here’s how you could check it out. And I tried to speak about the messaging and the content of the templates and why they would be helpful more than focusing on like the numbers or the ROI or um that kind of thing and really just kept it very like I would say like soft and gentle or at least that was my intention that was my goal and that made me a lot more comfortable doing this and honestly when I did my launch in December again I leaned on the same thing and it seems to still be working um but yeah so there is a way you can always sell in the way that makes you feel most comfortable with what you’re doing and that was a huge shift when I realized that I could you know cut and paste and just drop the things I wasn’t comfortable with was, I think that gave me like a little bit of a sigh of like, okay, fine, I could do this.

Rob Marsh: And what is your other not lightning round question, Kira?

Kira Hug: You know, it’s just what kind of like Rob’s question, you know, it’s what is next for you? What is exciting you right now? What can we look forward to from you?

Shterna Lazaroff: So the biggest thing I’m working on now is working out the balance of how much time I want to be focusing on. I think of my business as having two branches right now and how much time do I want to be focusing on either one. Um, and part of that is kind of just. following where it’s taking me in the sense of like, you know, I said, I had this phone call recently with someone who asked me about specific services and I was like, I don’t offer them. And then on the phone call with him, I realized that I could build it in a way that was scalable. I was like, Hey, maybe I should try these out. So I, there are definitely a few like specific ideas I have in mind of ways that I would love to build out the, like what I call the template part of my business or the scalable part of it. But the biggest thing is really working out like which am I focusing on and when and working out, you know, what that balance is going to be for me and which one deserves attention or needs attention and why and how to split my time. So I’d say that’s probably like the biggest thing that I’ll probably be working on over the next few months.

Rob Marsh: Amazing. Well, this has been a good look into your business, Sterna, and seeing how we might be able to do some things in the nonprofit world. So I want to thank you for taking some time to talk to us about that.

Shterna Lazaroff: Thank you for having me.

Rob Marsh: If somebody wants to connect with you, where should they go?

Shterna Lazaroff: So my website, you could join my email list, Or I’ve lately been pretty active on LinkedIn. If you listen to this in a month from now, that might not be the case anymore. I’m like, testing to see whether the platform is bringing ROI for me. So definitely my email list, possibly LinkedIn.

Rob Marsh: That’s our interview with Shterna Lazaroff. Before I let you go, I’ll just emphasize a couple of ideas that we talked about in this interview that really stuck out to me.

Number one, writing for nonprofits, thinking about this, your customers or the people that you’re writing to, they don’t get a product, they don’t get a service at the end. We talked a little bit about this in the interview. So they need to get something. And often that something is a story. It’s an experience. It’s that emotional connection and that’s everything. And so it’s absolutely critical to be able to nail that and connect what you’re asking your reader to do to that mission of the nonprofit.

It’s been talked about dozens and dozens of times, but Charity Water, one of the things that they do in order to create that story is when you donate money to building a well, they go and build the well, they film it, They film the construction, they film the opening of the well, the water coming out, the people around the well, jumping around in the water. They film that and then they send that film, that short documentary about the well that you helped to build to everybody who contributed to that particular well. And in doing that, they give the donors a connection to the good that they’re doing. And it’s a shareable thing, so they share it on social media. send it to their friends, look at this thing that I did or that you helped me do. And it helps create that kind of story.

Now, that’s not necessary for every single thing, everything that we do for nonprofits, but we do want to be looking for creating those kinds of experiences because it’s the experience that people are buying when they donate to a charity or to a nonprofit. And as Shterna said, you can’t go overboard and take advantage. You’ve got to play it straight. If you play too much on the emotions, if you you know, blackmail, emotional blackmail, that kind of stuff, it’s going to backfire and ultimately not work. And so you really do have to play it straight, but connect as best you can to the emotion, the story and the connection. We also mentioned briefly the insider language that is so key to connecting with an audience. This isn’t just true with nonprofits. This is true with any audience, any group or community where people are being allowed to join or asked to join.

By using insider language, you send a message that you know what they’re thinking. So doctors, for instance, have words that only doctors use. And when you use those words in your copy, signals to the doctor that you know and understand them and whatever it is that you’re providing for them is right for them. The same is true for a lot of churches, a lot of clubs and organizations, for education, for teams and different groups. Find the insider language of the people that you’re talking to. And this really requires getting into their worldview, understanding what’s going on in their life around them, something that we go into in depth in the research mastery course, but really trying to understand what it is that people are thinking, saying, and doing. And if you do that, you’re going to connect with the insiders and you’re going to repel the outsiders, the people that don’t belong. And that’s a good thing.

I want to just underline this idea that Sterna talked about. this good reason to start a podcast, and that is to land clients. Now, there are a lot of reasons to have a podcast. As a passion project, maybe there’s a topic that you’re really interested in, but using a business podcast to connect with the people that you want to work with is a fantastic idea, even though it’s not necessarily a strategy that pays off within a couple of days or a couple of weeks, usually. It can, but usually it’s going to take a little bit more time to develop those relationships, but it is a fantastic way to get an introduction to somebody that you want to work with and to spend anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. talking about business, whether it’s the challenges that they’re facing, whether it’s their expertise or some other angle, it’s one of the very best ways to begin that connection.

So if you’re thinking about, Hey, this might be something I want to try out. You don’t need a podcast that is listened to by millions and millions of people. Simply make a list of the clients that you want to work with over the next one to two years. Then reach out to the decision makers at those companies, those organizations, and Ask them if they would be interested in appearing on your podcast. Set aside 30 minutes to an hour to interview them. Ask them about the challenges that they face, the things that they’re doing in their work. Obviously, that conversation may include you talking through some strategy or some ideas as well. Just let that conversation flow. And then after the podcast, just continue to nurture that relationship until the right time to pitch or until they ask for help with some of the things that you may have discussed. Of course, you’d want to release the podcast. You don’t want to tell them you’re doing this. And then, of course, it never goes live. That’s not ever going to be good for the client relationship. But this is a fantastic way to start building those connections with clients you might want to work with. A great idea that you may want to steal from Shterna.

One last idea that I want to just make sure we emphasize is this idea of listening to your audience when they want something. Now, two times Shterna heard from her clients that they wanted something specific that she did not offer. And yet she ran with it. She turned it into a product or service. And you know, her simple answer was, that’s not something I currently do. But if you’re open to get on the phone to talk about it, let’s figure out how to move forward. And that’s turned into products for her in her business that she can sell over and over and over. and could become in the future, a very lucrative portion of her business. So again, if you hear your audience or anybody that you’re working with, ask for something that you don’t currently offer. Don’t immediately say, Nope, I don’t offer it. Obviously, if you don’t want to offer it, you shouldn’t say, you know, shouldn’t do this. But if it’s possibly something that you could do, help them with a big problem that you can solve and make some additional money, work on an additional project, simply respond back. It’s not something I currently do, but if you’re open to getting on the phone to discuss, let’s do it.

Okay. That’s what stood out to me. If something else stood out to you, email me at rob at the copywriter and let me know your thoughts. And of course you can leave a review of the show at Apple podcasts or Spotify or wherever you listen to the show. I want to thank Sterna again for jumping on with Kira and me and sharing so much about her business and how she approaches it. If you want to connect with Sterna, you can do that on LinkedIn or you can visit her website, I’m going to spell that for you just so you can find it. And you can get in touch with her there. And like I said, you can also find her posting on LinkedIn quite a bit.

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