Help me give my writers their due!
May 30, 2012 9:58 AM   Subscribe

How do I ensure that the people who are contributing content to my site are getting enough credit?

I have recently started up a nonprofit resource website; eventually I would like to see it grow into a reputable news and current event source focused on innovation and change in the nonprofit industry. I value research-based op-ed pieces, and am currently accepting them for the site.

I cannot pay for this work, although eventually I would like to hire the best contributors into paid positions when I can afford to. I've made that clear, but I also want to make sure that their work is getting fairly recognized. I understand what it’s like to write for no reward, and I want to ensure that not only am I abiding by legal terms (no idea what those even are, I figured a by-line, tagging with the authors name?), but also letting the writers know how much their hard work is appreciated (maybe author bios?). I want them to be able to list the work they’ve done for this site on a resume, for example.

This is all new to me. My site is about nonprofit work, but it itself is not a nonprofit, so I can’t even give them a tax receipt for volunteer time and hours. Help me be fair, appreciative, and correct!
posted by thatbrunette to Writing & Language (1 answer total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Over at We Love DC our writers are also all volunteer and we think about this sort of thing a lot. I'll tell you what our solution was.

For legalities, we tell our writers that everything they write, they own. So they're free to use it whatever other way they wish - republish it on their own blog, rework it and sell it elsewhere, whatever they like. The terms of our deal is that they give us a perpetual license to publish it, so that if they decide they're not interested in writing any more for us we don't suddenly have a hole in our content.

That agreement is what's important, not by-lines. You can run stuff uncredited so long as that's the deal you have with them. In the US any creative work is immediately copyrighted by virtue of being created, and unless you have an explicit work-for-hire agreement with someone they will continue to own it. That, along with our sense that it's the Right Thing To Do, is why we have the work ownership agreement with folks.

As far as credit, I'd suggest the most important thing you do is get feedback from participants on exactly what credit is valuable to them. We went into this thinking that links back to their own sites was going to be the most important thing to our writers. The reality has been such that several don't maintain their own websites and couldn't care less. Hell, I'm current managing editor and I don't bother to maintain a personal site.

For us the big value has been experience and contacts; some of our writers leveraged their work with us into other gigs, paid and unpaid, or made professional contacts that helped them get better 9-to-5 jobs. We didn't expect that to be people's primary motivation, so you may want to make sure that people are doing things for you for the reasons you think they are.

We also found that atta-boys and explicitly recognizing people's stuff made a big impact. We use an email listserv for current-author communication and try to call out every time we get recognized in a prominent way, or have a big traffic hit, or one of the team sees related success elsewhere. If you have some sort of group space like that you may find that's a bigger deal to some people than their name and picture on a site.

Good luck. Running a volunteer-contribution operation has been one of the most rewarding, challenging, maddening, dispiriting, uplifting and all around wouldn't-trade-it-for-the-world experiences of my life.
posted by phearlez at 11:19 AM on May 30, 2012

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