Voluntary vs. commercial translation
Thread poster: Heinrich Pesch

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:54
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Jun 16, 2006

Do others have experience about voluntary translation projects and how they are managed?
Earlier this year, when having some time to spare, I joined a project which tries to raise money for international aid organisations. Some 4000 words were translated by voluntary translators into a lot of different languages. Together with my son we turned in the file and proofread online etc. We thought that's it.
But after that the person managing the project kept changing the stuff, moving the strings around, adding additional material etc. We did one revision, but the project is not even published yet, more revisions are required.
If they had to pay their translators the whole thing would have costed them tens of thousands of dollars, and they wouldn't dare to issue unfinished texts.
Do you think this is an exception or a phenomenon related to voluntary work in general?


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:54
English to Spanish
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Tacky Jun 16, 2006

Do you think this is an exception or a phenomenon related to voluntary work in general?

I can't generalize, but in this case the whole thing sounds rather tacky.

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Local time: 08:54
English to German
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usually such organizations are fund raisers Jun 16, 2006

they usually come requesting volutary work, later you are forgotten, by then they are real organization. This had happened to me once and it was a good lesson. I would rather do some social work in my region, in my free time, nothing related to my real work. Best Brandis

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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:54
English to French
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Volunteers Jun 16, 2006

Hi Heinrich,

This is a wild guess, but very often, when an organization asks for volunteer translation work, the people coordinating the translation are also volunteers. For this reason, there are several problems that can get in the way of sound project management. One of them is staff turnover. Maybe the coordinator stayed the same for a long time, but some of the people supporting his/her work may have left. Also, these people often need to train other people, because of the turnover. Finally, when an organization is based largely on volunteers, chances are they don't have enough resources to do a proper job - that is why they are raising funds, right?

Although I don't think this is a typical situation, it is probably not uncommon. I think that it's a good thing for beginners to live through a couple of experiences like that, not only to get things to put into their resumes, but also because it may well be good training on project management and it may give them an inside look at how problems are dealt with and how they should be dealt with.

2 cents!


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cello  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:54
Spanish to English
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I agree with Henry... Jun 16, 2006

...it sounds really tacky.

I think that it all depends on the person in charge of 'farming out' the translations.

I have done (paid) translations for a very large NGO here in Spain. The reason for this, in one case, was that the PM for the organisation in question put her foot down and said that 40,000 could not be done by a goup of volunteers (and she would resign if they didn't accept her decision). In the other case it was because the organisation couln't find volunteers to work at the weekend and it was an urgent job.

So, I think that this kind of (unpaid) volunteer work should be just like any other paid job, except for the bill at the end.

Of course, this would be true if the if the coordinator in question has experience in the sector. If they don't, maybe you should politely explain to them how the translation world works - because you are a professional and it doesn't sound like the coordinator you are working with knows what s/he is up to. Bear in mind that in many large organisations of this kind the people that you volunteer for are actually paid for what they do.

- Linda

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Voluntary vs. commercial translation

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