Pro Bono Volunteering
Many humanitarian organizations need translation and interpretation services but lack the funds to hire linguists. At the same time, new members of our profession sometimes seek opportunities to build their experience, while more experienced members often want to give back to the community or develop skills in a new area. We've selected a few organizations needing foreign language support that do work of an extraordinary nature or that provide experience and/or training in a special area.
Please send us your suggestions for more volunteer opportunities or share your feedback about working with any of these organizations. We'd like to thank Kristin Connor for her work in researching these opportunities.
Bar Association of San Francisco
The Interpreter Project assists non-English speaking clients in communicating with their attorneys.
» Contact: VLSP Recruitment Coordinator at (415) 782-9000, x.8759, or by e-mail
» Languages needed: Fluency in English and one other language, especially Spanish, Cantonese or Mandarin
» Schedule: Monday through Friday during business hours
» Training and commitment: Interpreter training is provided quarterly. Minimum commitment is two pro bono cases within a year of training.
California Dental Association Foundation CDA Cares, Sacramento area
The California Dental Association, CDA Foundation and national partner America's Dentists Care Foundation host CDA Cares, free dental clinics to provide oral health services and education to more than 1,500 patients at each event.
» Contact: (888) 959-1331 or by e-mail
» Languages needed: Fluency in English and one other language, especially Spanish
» Schedule: Volunteer interpreters are needed in six-hour shifts August 24-25, 2012
» Register or find more information at cdafoundation.org/cdacares
CMCC is a state-licensed primary care holistic health clinic with locations in both downtown Oakland and San Francisco (Mission District) that provides free complementary alternative medicine treatments to low-income women who have cancer. CMCC has offered acupuncture, massage, herbs and homeopathy as well as social work services free of charge for over 20 years.
» Contact: Volunteer Services Manager Jill R. Arnold at 510-601-7660, x21, or to download an application, click here
» Languages needed: Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin; both interpretation & translation
» Schedule: Monday through Friday during business hours
» Training and commitment: Interpreter training is provided
The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano
Participates in CalFresh Outreach, which is the new name for the Food Stamp Program. We are working to increase enrollment in this program and assist individuals and families in applying for supplemental income that could drastically effect their lives. Contra Costa County has one of the lowest enrollment rates in the country. This is due in part to the large immigrant population and the language barriers that they face. We need support in reaching out to these communities and providing them with accurate information about the program. In addition, the Food Bank has just started a new program called CalFresh Clinics. We partner with local agencies and set up appointments with their clients to come in and fill out the online version of the CalFresh application. It is an in-depth application asking many questions about income, expenses, resources, etc. We are seeking interpreters’ assistance in helping our staff communicate with clients so we can accurately fill out the application and get them the benefits to which they are entitled.
» Contact: Berkeley Adams, CalFresh Outreach Coordinator, (925)677-7020, firstname.lastname@example.org
» Languages: All, but in particular: Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Arabic
» Schedule: Very flexible, and scheduled for each interpreter.
Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation
Grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy. Wish Grantor positions may include interviewing wish children and their families to determine the child’s favorite wish; completing necessary paperwork; serving as a liaison between the wish family and the chapter office; making the wish special and magical for the child. This position requires an application process to include fingerprinting, a four-hour training provided by the Foundation, and a subsequent observational wish. Volunteers should be empathetic, caring, friendly, proactive, responsible—and should like kids of all ages!
» E-mail or call (415) 402-2775
» Language needs: translators and interpreters with fluency in English and Spanish
» Time commitment: Minimum two-year commitment requested, two to three wishes annually with a volunteer commitment of about eight to twelve hours per wish
Habitat for Humanity East Bay
Offering affordable, sustainable housing solutions for low-income families since 1988, and helping families as they work to fulfill their dreams of homeownership.
» Contact: Jen Golike at 510-251-6304, x376 or e-mail
» Languages needed: Spanish, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Arabic, among others
» Schedule: Flexible. Once you're registered through the Google group email list, volunteer opportunities will be posted as they become available; volunteer translation projects via email.
Seeking translators and interpreters of all levels of experience to assist families with the application process and make the program accessible to underserved Bay Area residents. Volunteers needed for the application process, including interpreting information sessions, conducting home interviews alongside other volunteers, and assisting staff as they request documents from applicants. For those who already have a real estate background, this is an opportunity to assist families through the closing process and discussion of lending and escrow processes.
International Rescue Committee San Francisco
Founded in 1933, the IRC is a global leader in emergency relief, rehabilitation, protection of human rights, post-conflict development, resettlement services and advocacy for those uprooted or affected by conflict and oppression.
» Contact: Erin Oglesby, volunteer/donations coordinator, (415) 863-3777 or by e-mail
» Languages needed: All, in particular, French, Arabic, Somali, Vietnamese, Bosnian, Russian
International Rescue Committee San Jose
IRC has been resettling and empowering refugees in San Jose since 1979, serving as the gateway to almost half of the approximately 45,000 refugees that have come to Santa Clara County in that time. IRC's immigration programs have helped thousands with adjustment of status, citizenship and other immigration legal services. Given the multiple needs of refugees, IRC San Jose focuses on providing excellent services in key resettlement areas, then leverages organizational support to other services providers, most notably community-based organizations, to ensure a broad base of service support for refugees.
» Contact: Robin Miller, (408) 453-3536
» Estimated time: 2 hours per week
Non-profit, volunteer-based legal services organization that champions the legal rights of people of color, poor people, immigrants, and refugees with a special commitment to African-Americans. Help needed in assisting those with limited English in communicating with volunteer attorneys.
» Contact: (415) 543-9444, x200, or email; volunteer web page
» Translators and interpreters needed with fluency in English and one other language, especially Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin and Vietnamese» Schedule: Monday through Friday during business hours, no minimum commitment or experience required; program orientation provided
New Field Foundation contributes to the creation of a peaceful and equitable world by supporting women and their families to overcome poverty, violence, and injustice in their communities, as of May 2012, focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa, and operates in support of Tides Foundation's international grant making.
» Contact: Diane Adou, Operations Coordinator: (415) 561-3417, or email
» Language needed: French, specifically French-English formal interpretation (simultaneous or consecutive) for French speaking partners visiting from Africa
» Frequency & duration: Visits from partners occur twice a year, up to 10 days on average, hours specific to each event but usually during normal business hours 9-5
Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Sonoma counties.
Operation Access arranges for the donation of surgical and specialty care services for people of low income who have no health insurance.
» Contact: Christabel Breen, Contra Costa Program Specialist, (415) 733-0278
» Languages needed: primarily Spanish and Cantonese, but also other languages
» Schedule: Once you're registered in the volunteer database, you will be contacted on a case-by-case basis. Operation Access staff will provide an orientation to our program and can provide a glossary of medical terms used.
Rebuilding Together San Francisco
Founded in 1989 as a way for neighbors to help each other rebuild after the earthquake, RTSF mobilizes teams of volunteers to revitalize neighborhoods by repairing homes and renovating nonprofit facilities and schools. To serve more clients, help is needed in communicating about services. You will be added to the interpreter volunteer list and you will be informed of upcoming opportunities.
» Contact: Ted Aquino, AmeriCorps Outreach Coordinator, (415) 905-1611 or by e-mail
» Languages Needed: Fluency in English and one other language, especially Spanish, Cantonese or Mandarin
» Schedule: Flexible, depending on need
San Francisco Education Fund
The Volunteer Interpreter Program needs Cantonese and Spanish interpreters during the school for parent-teacher conferences, school events and day-to-day communications between schools staff and families. Volunteers receive 18 hours of interpreting training, materials and glossaries free of charge in exchange for volunteering one to two times a month for one school year. Volunteer interpreters connect parents to their children’s school. They help keep limited English parents involved in their child’s education, something that is crucial to student success.
» Contact: See description of program and application forms for volunteers
» Languages Needed: Spanish and Cantonese
» Schedule: one to two times a month for one school year
Senior Legal Hotline
Provides free legal assistance by phone to California residents age 60 and over. Phone interpreters needed as well as translators for client education materials.
» Contact: (916) 551-2145, send an e-mail or visit the Get Involved page
» Languages needed: All
» Training and schedule: Daytime hours on a project basis for phone interpreters. Training provided and available on video. Offices based in Sacramento, but volunteers in other areas also welcome.
Voluntary Legal Services Program of Northern California, Sacramento region
VLSP is a volunteer-based pro bono legal aid program that provides free assistance with civil legal matters to low-income clients living in the Sacramento region.
» Contact: Vicki Jacobs, managing attorney, (916) 551-2116
» Languages needed: primarily Spanish, but also other languages
» Schedule: Once you're registered in the volunteer database, you will be contacted on a project-by-project basis. No formal training provided at this point, but legal glossaries in several languages are available upon request.
ATA's Red Cross Program
The American Red Cross has requested the assistance of the American Translators Association in the development of a nationwide professional interpreters network.
Translators Without Borders
In 1993, Eurotexte created the non-profit association Translators Without Borders to provide free translations to humanitarian organizations. Today, this pro bono work assists organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, which are then able to use the funds they save to extend their humanitarian work. Many Eurotexte translators and staff volunteer their time for these important translation jobs so that translations can be provided free to humanitarian NGOs. Fill in online application to volunteer.
» Languages needed: Mostly French<>English, some Spanish and Portuguese
A network of volunteer interpreters and translators working with the Social Forums, experimental meeting spaces for activist movements and NGOs from different countries and regions. Volunteer interpreters, translators and coordinators are needed. Several NCTA members have participated in the World Social Forum and other Social Forums through Babels in the past. Feedback about the experience varies, citing a certain level of disorganization, but some members have found the experience to be a valuable opportunity to do conference interpretation and work with a stimulating group of interpreters. If you're considering participating, feel free to ask for more information on the NCTA members list. Basic costs for travel are usually covered.
» Languages needed: wide range, but varies according to the Social Forum
One of New York Times Magazine’s “Top Ideas of 2006,” Kiva.org is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend to an entrepreneur in the developing world.
The Kiva Translation Program offers the opportunity to use your skills to make a direct contribution, network with other Kiva volunteers and build your resume. Volunteering from their own homes, Kiva volunteers translate entrepreneurs' profiles into English, which are then posted for funding at Kiva.org.
>> Requirements: Native-level writing skills in English and ability to commit to two hours per week for six months as a volunteer
>> Apply online at www.kiva.org/volunteer. Please be sure to state that you found out about us on the NCTA website.
The Rosetta Foundation helps to provide access to information and knowledge across language boundaries, independent of economic, social, political, or geographical considerations. The Foundation’s aim is to fight information poverty, and to work for better education, justice, healthcare and economic well-being by offering nonprofit translation services and technologies to organizations sharing these aims. The Foundation is supported by hundreds of volunteer translators, project managers, and volunteers.