Volunteering: Making Your Investment of Time Worthwhile

Can we, as freelance professionals, really reach a balance wherein paid work, continuing education, and volunteering each play equitable roles, all while maintaining a work-life balance?

Volunteers are the cornerstones of nearly every nonprofit organization, and ATA is no exception. But what motivates a person to give their time for free? Can we, as freelance professionals, really reach a balance wherein paid work, continuing education, and volunteering each play equitable roles, all while maintaining a work-life balance? I say yes, and both our careers and personal lives can be more enriched for it.

Volunteering Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

As a translator or interpreter, volunteering could manifest itself as general work within an organization like ATA or pro bono professional services offered to those in need. It can also be done digitally or in person. Volunteer work can involve a long-term commitment, like serving on a board of directors, or a single afternoon spent at the local rescue mission. Most of us volunteer without realizing it, such as when we step up to chaperone a school field trip or lend a hand to someone in need in our community.

The motivations for volunteering come in all shapes and sizes. One incentive is the simple fact that volunteering can make us feel good about ourselves. We feel that we’ve given back—or perhaps paid it forward! Another motivation for volunteering is the simple existence of a need. We often fill roles as volunteers because we were either asked to do so or because we saw a gap and were willing to fill it. Sometimes we volunteer to gain experience—perhaps to learn more about an organization or community, perhaps to help us master a task or trade. At times we volunteer as a way to expand our networks, since some of the best community-building activities come about when we serve side by side as volunteers.

Knowing Where to Look

Don’t know where to start? Within ATA alone, there are many opportunities for willing volunteers. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look. The structure of our organization is such that with all the moving parts and vital programs that operate as branches of the parent association, volunteers are at the core of nearly every committee, program, and entity within ATA. Divisions and chapters, which offer a meaningful connection for local groups based on geographical region, subject matter, or language family, often rely on volunteers to coordinate events, publish information, and share resources. The School Outreach and Mentoring Programs, which are aimed at ushering in the newest generation of translators and interpreters, are built on a volunteer model where members are encouraged to connect with newcomers or students to facilitate learning and the development of our profession. The success of ATA’s Annual Conference and its many related activities is dependent upon the willingness of volunteers to promote, host, welcome, organize, and support the event. Likewise, the many committees that function in line with ATA’s mission and vision are driven by volunteers. In a nutshell, ATA runs on volunteers!

What Volunteer Commitments Demonstrate about Us

Once you’ve buckled down and begun to serve as a volunteer in any capacity, it’s only logical to eventually circle back around to analyze your volunteer commitments and reevaluate your decision to serve. It’s at this point that we have to ask ourselves a question that might sound a little self-serving on the surface, but that’s actually crucial to ensuring continuity and reciprocity in the volunteer process: “What’s in it for me?”

To get to the bottom of how we can really benefit from volunteering, I propose that we turn this question upside down and ask ourselves this instead: “What do my volunteer commitments demonstrate about me?” Here are a few examples to consider as you seek to build the image you want to portray to your network:

My willingness to serve as a volunteer says I care about my profession. When I dedicate my available time to furthering the mission of translators and interpreters, whether by contributing to a blog for newcomers to the profession or helping to register attendees at a local networking event, it shows that this industry means more to me than just a job or making a living. These actions demonstrate my commitment to the career.

The fact that I volunteer my time and energy sends a message that I’m no stranger to hard work. The choice to give of my time for free relates to others that I don’t shy away from a challenge, even when there is no immediate tangible benefit to me. For example, if I agree to head up a particularly complex or time-intensive initiative within a committee, this is an opportunity to demonstrate that I take on responsibility eagerly and am willing to put my nose to the grindstone.

Volunteering within an organization like ATA conveys to others that I’m a team player. Serving as a volunteer is seldom a solo activity—it almost always involves teamwork. I can learn and grow as an individual through the teams I serve alongside. For example, a colleague may join me to do a School Outreach presentation or I could pair up with another translator to edit my division’s monthly newsletter. These opportunities to develop teamwork skills not only shape us professionally, but also display our ability to collaborate and cooperate with others.

As you see, volunteering can be a very constructive part of managing a professional image, in addition to the many other benefits it offers. You may find it helpful to keep in mind this final food for thought as you seek to make the most of your volunteer commitments and serve our community:

1. Know how to say “no.” Setting boundaries can be a challenge when we see there’s a need, but there are only so many hours in the day! There will always be good opportunities that you need to pass up, and it’s okay to say “no.”

2. Volunteering is great for balance on a résumé. There’s no shame in showcasing your volunteer activities on a résumé or LinkedIn profile. You can even ask colleagues you’ve volunteered with to be professional references if you feel they have sufficient knowledge of your work ethic and skill set.

3. Doing slipshod volunteer work is counter-productive for everyone. If you give 100% to your paid work, then give 150% to your volunteer work. Treat these commitments as seriously as you would a paid job because they matter. You never know who may be watching your efforts.

4. Volunteer commitments can be fun. Treating volunteering as drudgery will only make it more of a chore. If you see volunteer service as a hobby rather than a necessary evil and choose your commitments wisely, they can be some of the most refreshing aspects of your professional life.

5. Thank the volunteers in your life. There may not be a financial payoff, but the best compensation I can think of in exchange for volunteer work is to be appreciated and respected by peers. So, be sure to thank a volunteer!

For additional ideas on how to manage and select volunteer activities, you can listen to a free ATA webinar I presented on the subject here: http://bit.ly/ATA-webinar-volunteering. Happy volunteering!

Opportunities to Volunteer Within ATA

ATA Annual Conference

ATA Chapters

ATA Committees

ATA Divisions

ATA Mentoring Program

ATA School Outreach Program

Jamie Hartz is an ATA-certified Spanish>English translator and transcriber. She has been freelancing since 2013, specializing in legal and commercial translations. She received her MA in translation from Kent State University in May 2015. She serves as secretary of her local ATA chapter, the Delaware Valley Translators Association, and has been a member of the The Savvy Newcomer blog team since its inception in 2013. Contact: jamie@tildelanguage.com.

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