My Two Cents: How Volunteering Changes Your Perspective of Business

My Two Cents: How Volunteering Changes Your Perspective of Business

by Esther on 2 mei 2011

In the translation business, a rate of $0.02 per word is generally considered ridiculous. After starting my writing and translating company in January 2010, I quickly discovered it’s just impossible to run such a business for a word price below $0.10.

Me and my fellow translators often get wound up over agencies or companies that demand top quality translations for absolute bargain prices.

Anyone who’s new to the translation industry will recognize how hard it can be to charge decent rates right from the start. This is actually a common struggle for many entrepreneurs.

But having the opportunity to deliver a voluntary translation to an NGO suddenly shifted my perspective.

I recently translated the captions of a set of gorgeous nature photos on forests, animals and sustainable development into Dutch for an NGO named GoodPlanet, a project brought to my attention by Translators Without Borders. These guys provide regular support to NGOs by having professional translators do voluntary work, so the organization’s scarce resources can be used elsewhere.

As a volunteer translator on sustainability, one of my favorite subjects, I didn’t mind working for $0.00 at all! It was an honor to rewrite the information accompanying stunning pictures of world-famous photographers like Yann Arthus-Bertrand (Psst… You can actually download the posters for free! Just hit the link.)

Volunteering changes your business identity. It makes haggling over one or two cents look silly.

The point is that it matters which hat you are wearing at a certain moment. Do you label yourself as a volunteer or an entrepreneur? You can switch roles at any time without noticing, but one will always overpower the other since they aren’t 100% compatible.

While you’re wearing your business hat, you may be looking to be applauded for your success, provide a stable income for your family, or simply survive.

The moment you switch to a volunteer role, the underlying goals change into things such as showing you care about your environment, feeling fulfilled and being appreciated by others for your generosity.

So what can you take away from this?

Become aware of which part of your identity you are called at when you are asked to do something, whether it’s for cash or for charity. Then act on it.

I believe anyone with some skills and the right mindset should consider giving their two cents to the world every now and then.

At the same time, we do need to charge professional rates for the work we do on a daily basis. The world won’t benefit from our efforts if we continuously sell ourselves short.

But that’s just my two cents.

How have you used your business skills to volunteer? Has this changed your perspective of work and rates in any way?

  • Hi Esther,

    Thanks for your generous commitment to Translators Without Borders, and for this enlightening post. We translators can also contribute to make the world a better place.

    Kind regards,
    Enrique Cavalitto
    Translators Without Borders coordinator

    • My pleasure Enrique, it’s a great initiative that does show we can all give back in our own ways. Thanks for taking the time to read & comment here!

  • Caitilin Walsh


    Thanks for this lovely post. I had the same moment, when I shifted from an enterprise portal manual for an enterprise client to mosquito nets in Burundi for TSF/TWB. Yes, one pays the bills, but the other let me make a difference. Which is what it’s all about!

    Caitilin Walsh, CT

    • Hi Caitilin, good stuff 🙂 I think it’s nice to combine the two approaches by switching hats every now and then. Gives both variation and meaning!

    • Marina Sayfulina

      Hi Caitilin,

      I am a Social Media team Member at Translators Without Borders. Thank you for your kind feedback to TWB’s work. I wonder if we could use your nice comment here on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin?

      Marina Sayfulina

  • Pingback: Applying business skills to volunteer work: one volunteer/business owner’s perspective | Translator T.O.()

  • Congrats on launching your blog, Esther. Doing something for love or intrinsic value feels very different to working purely for profit. Though, ideally the two overlap. Sounds like translation is sometimes viewed as something of a commodity. How can a professional translator distinguish herself in order to command a higher rate?

    • Very true Lachlan: a combination of passion and profit is ideal. Plenty of inspiring blogs about that around 🙂

      The translation industry is actually pretty competitive. There are lots of people who think it’s easy, like if you can order two beers in another language, you could translate… well it’s not. Most clients have pretty high standards and don’t just ask you to convert a text from one language to another, they want more of an active rewrite. And because there are so many people translating, rates are always a struggle. But I think if you consider yourself a professional, you *have* to charge decent rates. If you don’t take yourself seriously, who else will?

      Really appreciate you coming over here to comment, btw 🙂

  • I could not agree more, Esther. We’ve written about volunteer opportunities on our blog as well, and they are so much better than working for, well, peanuts. Kudos to you for volunteering — awesome! BTW — on your About page, I just saw that you’ve spent time in Chile. How wonderful — we just returned from a month-long stay in Santiago on Sunday. It’s a fantastic country.

    Judy Jenner

    • Hi Judy! Volunteering is easier than it looks, and I think everybody does a bit of it. Every little helps, it doesn’t have to be a huge project to make an impact. I wonder: maybe volunteering is a bit of a blown up concept?

      OMG, you just came back from Santiago? That’s the city of my heart. I think you’ll see many articles on this blog with a direct reference to Chile 🙂 Did you like it, or prefer some of the more pristine parts of the country, like the south?

  • Nice blog and nice first article. Congratulations! I am also new to the industry and it is good to read about other (young/new) translators’ experience.

    • Best of luck with your translations Veronica, and thanks for stopping by!

  • Hi there! I love the way volunteering makes you feel good while it’s good for others too. Now I’m off checking out those Translators Without Borders 🙂

    • Do check ‘em out, they’ll love you for it 🙂 Thanks for your comment!