Every now and then people will ask you to translate something for free under the pretext of charity. Occasionally acquaintances and relatives will request you to do something for (almost) free. Naturally, there is no universally applicable advice, let alone rules, for these situations. It’s up to you to decide what to do on a case-by-case basis. However, here are some tips for making that decision.


Let’s say the one making the request is proposing a lower price or no price at all on the grounds of being a relative. You should reflect on how much work is involved, whether the person would commission the work elsewhere regardless, and how a professional of a different field would react to such a request. The more time the commission would potentially take, the more you have to consider asking for compensation. If the commission is going to be offered to someone else regardless, it shouldn’t be done for free. If the commission is not compulsory, and if too high of a price will prevent it from being translated, taking it for a lower price can be considered. It could be helpful to compare yourself to a doctor or solicitor you know: how far would they be willing to help you for free or for a nominal fee?


A common excuse for requesting free commissions is the experience and P.R. the translator or the interpreter would gain from it. If no one else is making money off the commission, and it is genuine charity, you may skip the next sentences. But if someone is making a buck, why should you be involved for free? Experience and visibility alone don’t bring home the bacon.


Charities are a matter of conscience for everyone. For starters, you should think if you’re willing to donate to that particular charity. If so, maybe your helpful act could be donating expertise instead of money. Then again, if you are not prepared to give money, why should you be required to invest your valuable expertise and time? Do not let others guilt trip you. Decide for yourself which charities you wish to support.


With all these requests you may also consider, and depending on the situation, offer any of the following alternatives: doing it for free, doing it for a nominal payment, doing it for a payment that covers your costs for lost potential earnings, or doing it for your normal fee but with a discount. Whether you choose any of these options or the normal rate, it is important to justify your decision to the client. If you fail to do so the client may, for example, think that it is normal practice in the field to charge so little, or misunderstand the significance of your charity contribution. Because of this, the client may ask you to work for the same altered fee in the future as well.


As with many other things, an old wisdom adage applies: do as you wish, but know why you do it. Don’t do anything just because others want you to or out of sense of duty. Think it over and make informed choices.