Freelancers for charities

Getting your Board on Board with freelancers

Posted by Nicola on 12/02/2024

Getting your Board on Board with freelancers

  • You have a project or regular task to deliver that requires specialist skills
  • Nobody who works for you has the right knowledge
  • You’re staring at a deadline that you don’t have the capacity to meet
  • Who you gonna call? (nope, not ghostbusters)
There are times where an experienced freelancer might be just what your charity needs.  

As a CEO turned freelancer, I’m familiar with the misgivings that Boards can feel about working with freelancers. But when you get it right, freelancers bring new and diverse perspectives and insight, and offer you flexibility to get tasks done faster and with skills you don’t have in-house.  

We’ve compiled responses to five questions your Board might have about engaging freelancers. No ghostbusting proton pack required…. 

1. ‘Freelancers are expensive! Is it really a good use of our scarce funds?’

Give your Board a clear business case with cost/benefit considerations. Freelancers are likely to cost more per hour than your staff not just due to their expertise but also because you’re not incurring costs like paid holiday, pension contributions, sick pay, office space, and equipment.

In the end, you have to evaluate cost benefit of paying freelance rates for the work needed, and set this out clearly for your Board. They’re meeting their fiduciary duties by checking this is the best use of funds and value for money, so give them the information to make a confident decision.

2. ‘How do we make sure they do the work we want done in the way we need?’

Reassure your Board by writing a clear and realistic brief. Include the outcomes you are looking for and the budget. Agree with your Board if and when they want to ‘sign off’ any strategic decisions.  Broadly speaking, involvement of Trustees should mirror what you do with other recruitment.

If working with freelancers is likely to be part of your long-term planning, make a note of the decision making and signoff process (ideally as part of a wider scheme of delegation) and getting this signed off by your Board for future use.  

For larger pieces of work, an interview is expected, for smaller assignments an informal conversation is more appropriate.  As with the brief, agree a process with your Board before you start and bear in mind that the freelancer will be thinking about the ‘opportunity cost’ of going through your process.  

Finding someone through a reputable platform like Blume can help your Board be confident of quality.  Using a clear service agreement gives you scope to change or even end the relationship if things go wrong – providing further reassurance for your Trustees – and you - that risk is managed. 

3. ‘How do we work out if it’s better to employ someone or work with a freelancer?’

Do you need these skills at a steady pace all year round for more than a few hours a week?  If the answer is yes, employing someone might actually be the best option. 

If this is a fixed term project where you need extra skills or capacity, or it’s a regular task that requires expertise that you’re not likely to ever have in-house, then a freelancer could be better.

In some cases, a freelance arrangement might enable you to test out a role that you are considering creating without the risk of employing someone right away – a skilled freelancer could help you evaluate the best way to meet your long-term needs.

It’s worth mentioning here that you and your Trustees understanding IR35 is essential – it’s a bit of legislation that defines the difference between an employee and a contractor – it is not difficult, but there are some important things to keep in mind. There is some really helpful guidance here: Understanding off-payroll working (IR35) - GOV.UK ( 

4. ‘What will funders think?’

It’s true that some funders struggle with the idea of charities they support engaging freelancers – but these are relatively rare if you can clearly explain why this was the most cost-effective option and you have produced a solid business case setting out return on investment / value for money.  This will also help your Trustees to meet their governance responsibilities of ensuring funds are well used – win-win! 

5. ‘This sounds like a great learning experience for you and your team! Why don’t we just figure it out as we go along and save some money?’

Your Trustees might be right about this – so the question really is – is this the best use of your time and resources right now (remember – your staff time has a cost too).  Ask yourselves: does anyone in-house have the level of capability and the time required? Include commentary on this in your business case.

We should all be seeking to learn new skills through work projects, so if this is important to you, include in your brief that you want the freelancer to support ‘upskilling’ of staff as part of the project.  This should help your Trustees see the long term benefits of this approach.


With thanks to the Linkedin community of charity CEOs, Trustees and Freelancers for their insight and wisdom, and the freelancers and Boards I have had the privilege to work with.

Nicola Upton is a Charity CEO turned consultant, who made some early mistakes hiring freelancers but learnt from that experience and managed to deliver great projects and outcomes with the help of their expertise. She wants to make it easier for other charity leaders to get what they need, make the changes they want, and unleash their superpowers. 

Contact Nicola if you (and your board) want to discuss working with her.