Patagonian Penguins

It's time for another real-life business case. This story comes from our own business, so we have changed all identifying details to protect the parties. Some details we have had to distort completely -- we don't want anyone being identified by our story, which has an important point, we promise. Read on.

A colleague from a faraway country recently referred some business to us (our colleague consented to this blog post), and we started communicating with the very nice direct client. We quoted on a mid-sized project and waited for confirmation. A few days after that, we received an e-mail from an organization that is closely associated with our client. For simplicity's sake, let's call our client Green Juice and the other organization we'll call the Association for the Protection of Patagonian Penguins (APPP)*. In a very nice e-mail message, APPP told us that Green Juice strongly prefers to work with vendors who support conservation efforts and who are members of APPP. We had to think about this for a minute. Was Green Juice, via APPP, telling us that we had to make a donation to APPP to land this translation project? It certainly appeared that's what was going on.

After some deliberation, we responded with a brief, friendly e-mail. We thanked APPP for protecting Patagonian penguins and mentioned that we support several animal rescue organizations in both the U.S. and Europe, and that we are also the very proud parents of a cat (Junia) and a dog (Luna), who were both adopted from shelters. Finally, we said that while we are happy to donate to worthwhile charitable organizations around the globe, we were simply not able to join new organizations to obtain specific, one-time business. Finally, we stated that we completely understood if Green Juice preferred to work with another qualified linguist who was a member of APPP. We left it at that and tried not to sound defensive (we think we succeeded).

Dear readers: What would you have done? We'd love to hear what you think. Perhaps we could have factored the cost of APPP membership into our price quote? It just didn't seem right, and sometimes you just have to decline politely and move on. Project update: Not surprisingly, we did not get this project.  For the record: We are all about saving Patagonian penguins.

*APPP is a completely fictitious organization, as is Green Juice.


Lieselotte Kiupel said...

In my opinion you handled this correctly. If a client has certain conditions on which he decides whom to give a job, he should be honest and tell the potential supplier in advance. Moreover, I would like to be contacted by the client himself and not by a third party. I do not think that a serious job offer should depend on such things like donations to charity. I would never have thought that something like this could happen.

bonnjill on May 26, 2011 at 7:21 AM said...

I would have responded exactly how you did. It seems pretty icky to ask a contractor for a donation to your organization. It could have even been a scam and the translation job might have never even materialized. I did some pro bono work for a Kinderhilfe organization a few years ago and still get their newsletter every year asking for a donation. I've never donated. I figure my pro bono translations were my more-than-adequate contribution.

Sophia Ozog on May 26, 2011 at 7:51 AM said...


Very interesting business case. I would have done what you did. Doing your best not to sound defensive but remain polite and professional is great for your reputation. I think you did the right thing moving away from this client. Sometimes, that's just the best decision... Can you seriously imaging paying to get translation jobs? Doesn't sound right to me either.

Samantha @ SJC Paris said...

After reading this post (& I totally agree with your actions) I can see clearly why people are dubious about giving to or supporting anything when they can so clearly be steered into situations like the one you mentioned!

Love to the cats! :)

Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo on June 2, 2011 at 6:24 AM said...

Wow, this is an interesting situation! Did you all contact your colleague to see if s/he referred this client to you due to the unusual request from the third party? Agreeing with bonnjill, it definitely sounds like a scan from either the direct client, third party or both. I think you handled it very professionally--would have done the same!

laslosemy on June 3, 2011 at 5:25 PM said...

I think you have wasted too much effort explaining that you are not for them as business partner. I would have been much shorter and much more direct declining this job opportunity.
Otherwise, you did the right thing.

Rose - German to English Translator on June 6, 2011 at 8:27 PM said...

I agree with other comments made. If this was a serious job, you could have chosen to factor in a discount, but a donation up-front to land the job is inappropriate. I have given significant discounts to good causes (similar causes, in fact), but not an up-front "donation" to secure the work. It just isn't very professional, nor does it really suggest they prioritise quality. I think I would have acted in a similar manner - I don't take kindly to that sort of behaviour, regardless of how much I love penguins.

Ben Hemmens on June 6, 2011 at 10:47 PM said...

I think the penguin guys are nuts.

I don't even see the need to reply to an e-mail like that, though the line about supporting a range of other animal-related causes is a good one.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on June 11, 2011 at 12:32 AM said...

Thanks for chiming in, everyone! We really enjoyed reading about your insight. Seems like most of you would have done what we did. Actually, here's an update that's hard to believe: we did get this project a few days ago -- really. We did not change a thing on our quote, nor did we join the penguin association. The client simply came back to us and said they wanted to hire us for the project. We gladly accepted.

@Ben: we thought a reply was definitely necessary, as this was a referral from a very nice colleague. :)

@Magdalena: no, the colleague referred this project to us because he does not work in that language combination. It's definitely not a scam from either party at all. Green Juice is a very reputable organization that just happened to have a very unusual/unreasonable request.

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