Can volunteer translations improve your bottomline?
Thread poster: Samuel Murray

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 19:21
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Aug 25, 2008

G'day everyone

I'm looking for some opinions about whether it can be a smart business decision to do volunteer translations, and in particular volunteer software localisation. I realise many people who do participate in this, do so for personal or moral reasons, but the question is whether it could be done for sound business reasons. Can doing volunteer translation increase your profits in some or other way?

I can think of a number of argument in favour of this idea, but I'd like to hear what you can come up with. I'm biased, of course, because I promote volunteer translation, but I mostly promote it from either a moral or a social responsibility type of angle. Besides, doing volunteer translation can be fun, relaxing, stimulating and rewarding.

But the fact remains... we are business people. Can doing volunteer translation improve our business? Can the improvement or added value be measured so that we can say at the end of a year "that was worth it, yes, even in monetary terms"?

I look forward to your responses.

Samuel

==

This message was originally posted in "Getting established", but the moderator of that forum clearly believes that volunteer translation has no value for translators in getting established or growing an existing business, and moved the thread to "Being independent". It was later moved back.

[Edited at 2008-08-25 12:45]


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Doron Greenspan MITI  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 20:21
Member (2005)
English to Hebrew
+ ...
Some reasons, not all businesslike Aug 25, 2008

I believe one can use voluntay translation in one's resume - especially when it relates to websites or online articles, it provides serious, easily visible proof of one's abilities. Potential clients may also be impressed by the fact that you did all this great job just for the sake of it.

Also, it helps you develop/improve some good skills - website translation, software localization, medical article jargon etc. This will lead to being a better translator, and therefore, to better jobs/rates in the future.

But, my real point here is that the whole point of doing voluntary work is to go out of the ROI circle altogether. You do it because you do it - it serves whatever altruistic urges you have (and some selfish ones too), and you don't think what you'll get out of it.

Keep up the good work!

Doron


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 18:21
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Interfering moderator Aug 25, 2008

This message was originally posted in "Getting established", but the moderator of that forum clearly believes that volunteer translation has no value for translators in getting established or growing an existing business, and moved the thread here.


The moderator is quite mistaken on this point and should never have moved the thread. This is quite unhelpful.

Volunteer work is what originally built up a series of very successful business activities for me 20 years ago. It wasn't for translation, but I believe that the same principles apply. I spent nearly a year doing volunteer work for Greenpeace, a cancer research center (City of Hope), the LA County Natural History Museum and my local Macintosh Users Group, as well as in other environments I can barely remember any more, and the contacts I made there led to recommendations and opportunities that got me very well established later.

For someone who is starting out, volunteer work for translation, translation of Wikipedia articles, etc. can be a very legitimate way of establishing credibility and getting feedback on work quality without dealing with money issues and nagging questions of whether the reviewer trashed the translation because he/she is angling for more work. Obviously one can't do a lot of this if there are bills to pay, but I think it's better for young translators starting out and living at home with mom & dad (i.e. little overhead) to engage in volunteer work rather than accept low rates because of their lack of professional competence.

Greenpeace has an active, well-organized volunteer translation program; I'm sure Sam and others can name many more. In lieu of payment one could also insist on written permission to use the translations or excerpts thereof as examples of one's work when applying for paid projects.


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:21
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
There is no value for the average struggling established freelancer Aug 25, 2008

Hi Samuel,

I do not believe it makes sense for most established freelancers to do voluntary translations. It would merely reduce the average hourly income still further, and I would not recommend it.

Certainly, there is a (sometimes fairly high) publicity value to be gained from doing free translations for worthy causes, but I see this as only applying to either very high-earning freelancers or larger translation agencies.

Astrid

[Edited at 2008-08-25 09:23]


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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:21
Member
French to English
+ ...
Yes (in my case) Aug 25, 2008

Before I started out as a full-time freelancer I looked for organisations that needed volunteer translators, and soon found one in a sector that was related to an area I had worked in before (i.e. before I started translating). They sent me plenty of materials to help, including some excellent and very comprehensive glossaries and also journals/newsletters about their activities. I translated as a volunteer regularly for them over the first 8 months or so, and at the end of this period they told me that they would start paying me as they had been granted funding to cover translation expenses. Ever since then they have been a regular and valued client. I realise this experience may not be typical and I probably just got lucky, but I valued the non-financial benefits as much as the financial ones: the documents I translate for them are very interesting, I have now made a specialism out of the relevant field and have gained valuable reference materials that have helped me with other work, and the work is rewarding because I know it serves an important purpose. The organisation concerned gives me updates on its progress with individual cases, so I get to find out what happens further on down the line. So although it has helped me financially in the long run, if they asked me to I'd do it for free (though on a smaller scale, as obviously I have to make ends meet like anyone else!)

My work for them has nothing to do with software localisation, though, so I can't comment on that.


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Daniel García
English to Spanish
+ ...
Networking opportunities Aug 25, 2008

Very interesting topic, Samuel!

I remember reading some time ago an article with reccomendations for establishing a small company.

It was not addressed to translators but it reccomended joining the local Rotary Club or some other similar charity organisation and do some volunteer work for them as way of networking.

They basically said that the person organising a fund-raising activity with you could be the purchasing manager of a company and could end up sending your orders.

Of course, they adviced doing this discreetly and doing the volunteer work mainly and primarily (although not only) for altruistic reasons.

I am not sure how right it is morally to use charity to obtain a business profit but there it is.

Daniel


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 18:21
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
"Morality" Aug 25, 2008

dgmaga wrote:
I am not sure how right it is morally to use charity to obtain a business profit but there it is.


There's nothing immoral about networking. Even if someone's primary motivation is to make good contacts for possible business, as long as the quality of the volunteered work is good, who cares? These organizations also have paid staff, and I think many of these come from the ranks of the best volunteers.

In my case the only "deliberate" business development in my volunteer activities was knocking on doors to raise funds for Greenpeace, because as a former lab rat, I felt it was important to improve my communication and persuasion skills by discussing issues with people of all different backgrounds. I got to be passably good at sales as a result of these efforts - a critical survival skill for a small business.

Volunteer organizations of all kinds are wonderful opportunities to develop a wide range of skills in addition to networking. If you want to talk morality/ethics and charities, you're better off addressing how some of them use the money they receive and how much of it gets wasted on paying for administrative overhead, consultants, salaried organization leaders, etc. The volunteers are not part of those problems generally.


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Paul Merriam  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:21
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
Reality check Aug 25, 2008

A lot of people do volunteer work to get some exposure to a field before they make a commitment to do the training needed to actually become qualified in it. For example, I know people who have volunteered in hospitals and after volunteering there for six months or so have determined that they don't like working in hospitals and decide not to pursue getting a nursing degree or becoming a physician. I often find people who have an unrealistic idea of what it takes to be a good translator. There are also people who don't realize that if your source text is boring, translating it can be extremely boring as well. You can get some idea as to what translating entails by doing volunteer work for a worthy cause. You might find something else they do that's of more interest to you and pursue that direction.

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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 22:51
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
It helps Aug 26, 2008

I do volunteer translation and volunteer software localization. It helps in the following ways:

1. You get to know new technologies (in the case of localization of software) which I find exhilarating. Many of the softwares I have localized into Hindi, I have come to use later and found them quite useful.

2. You gain experience, which can then stand you in good stead in a real translation situation.

3. The company is good. The people who are into volunteer work are a jolly lot who help each other, keep up each other's morale and work with a passion which tends to rub off on you. This by far is the greatest reason I do volunteer translation.

4. Perhaps the least important reason is you can mention the volunteer work in your resume and that can make the resume look impressive.

5. It is also possible that if you have been into volunteer work for long enough, your good work (if it has been good, that is) may get noticed by someone who wants commercial work done, though this has never happened to me (yet).


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Mathieu Jacquet  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 19:21
English to French
If ever you read French... Aug 26, 2008

...you can read this posting : http://www.nakedtranslations.com/fr/2008/02/000951.php

It's about a young French translator trying to get established in England, who was proposed translation jobs by UNO after having done some volunteering for the organization.

For my part, the "free" translations I've done for friends or organizations never turned into profit, but that was not my goal anyway. Maybe the ones I'll do in a near future will be more "interested". For example, I'll volunteer for Vancouver 2010 (hopefully) because I love winter sports and the Vancouver area, and because I used to be a volunteer ski patrol in Quebec.
Now if it turns into being proposed sports-oriented documents for translation afterwards, I'll be more than happy to take them on of course!

Mathieu.


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Louise Souter  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:21
Spanish to English
+ ...
Greenpeace volunteer translation programme Aug 27, 2008


Greenpeace has an active, well-organized volunteer translation program;


Could you please tell me where I can find out about this.


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DBG  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:21
Member (2002)
French to English
contact information for volunteer translators Aug 30, 2008

Hello Louise,

You can go to the Get Involved page of the Greenpeace site,
http://www.greenpeace.org/international/getinvolved.

At the bottom of the page you'll find the section for people interested in being volunteer translators, which includes the relevant e-mail address.
international.supporter.services@greenpeace.org

Volunteer translators receive a monthly newsletter updating them on translations done in the many language pairs, with the names of the volunteers and other bits of news-not to mention plenty of appreciative comments about, and thanks for the work done.:-) .

As mentioned above, an organized, responsive and pleasant bunch to volunteer for.

Best Regards,
Diantha


Louise Souter wrote:


Greenpeace has an active, well-organized volunteer translation program;


Could you please tell me where I can find out about this.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 19:21
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Initial summary, and some more questions Aug 31, 2008

Samuel Murray wrote:
We are business people. Can doing volunteer translation improve our business? Can the improvement or added value be measured so that we can say at the end of a year "that was worth it, yes, even in monetary terms"?


It was interesting that some people thought that volunteer translation should only be for altruistic reasons, or at least for non-profitable reasons. I found the same opinion on certain mailing lists where I posted my question. There seems to be a sizeable number of translators who feel decidedly uncomfortable with the idea that volunteerism should form part of a strategy to make money.

Several reasons were mentioned for doing volunteer translation, and they are all valid:

* You can put it on your résumé to impress clients
* It might lead to paid work from the same organisation
* If the translations are publicly available (eg on the web), you can refer to it to demonstrate your abilities
* If the cause is highly visible in the public mind, it may lead to publicity for the translator
* You can learn new technologies
* There is cameradrie between volunteer translators
* You can use it to feel the water when entering a new subject field
* The people you work with, may be well connected elsewhere, which could lead to a foot in a door that would not otherwise be available to you.


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