Volunteer translations

My client workload has been considerably lighter this month, but I haven’t lost momentum translating. Why? Because I have several organizations for which I regularly offer my services for free. Now, I understand if you aren’t so eager. Maybe you had a bad experience with volunteering in the past (heck, I’ve had one recently!). It happens. But consider this: for business purposes, working pro bono is like translating with training wheels on.

There’s no money involved, so your client is basically forced to be nice—otherwise, you won’t help them, right? You can practice being politely firm about needing more time, more context, etc. without worrying about scaring away your prospect. Little mistakes (like forgetting to ask if they want the translation formatted) are easier to smooth over and more quickly forgiven. Pro bono clients are happy to offer feedback, recommendations, and web-ready marketing blurbs as alternative compensation. And after your first assignment, you can choose to practice your follow-up marketing skills, or not. No potential income lost!

If you are a beginner, or are experiencing a “famine” period in your business, consider finding some pro bono clients of your own. (But you don’t have to go on my word alone: Attila Piroth, an active English-to-Hungarian translator, created a survey last year on volunteer translation and published his results online. Check it out!)

And, for list lovers:

Volunteer translation—Pros

  • Practice your business skills in a low-pressure situation
  • Gain experience with a variety of texts—build your glossary and your résumé
  • Enjoy more flexible deadlines (for those who still have day jobs, this can be such a relief!)
  • Collect positive feedback and references for future marketing


Volunteer translation—Cons

  • Not all pro bono clients respect your work—to them, it’s free, so it must be easy/value-less, right? Ahem…
  • Can interfere with paid projects, depending on how you schedule things

Am I missing anything? I know my Cons list is skimpy. Add your own points below!


2 thoughts on “Volunteer translations

  1. Pingback: First steps in translation | translation, untangled

  2. Pingback: It’s OK to take your time | translation, untangled

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