Language is Power (And Recruitment, Renewal, and Revenue)

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Author: Michael Hoffman

Michael Smolens, the indefatigable septuagenarian founder of the captioning and translation company Dotsub, is fond of quoting Nelson Mandela: 

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

Michael makes the point that while many people speak English as their second language, understanding is only part of the equation. The other part is emotional connection which is unmatched when someone can connect in their native tongue.

The Global Engagement Imperative

Working with many large and small international associations, I have been struck by how little video content there is in languages other than English. Yes, English has become the lingua franca of Europe and anywhere in the world where people from multiple countries congregate. But just because you can get away with only English, doesn’t mean that you should. 

By building systems that present videos in multiple languages, enabling your members to contribute content in their native language and putting multi-lingual captions on your videos, you can more deeply connect to your members, customers, donors and fans. More connection equals more renewals, more attendance and more loyalty over time.

The Smolens Experiment - Representation Matters

Smolens has done a simple experiment several times that had amazing results. While traveling to a conference outside of the US, he put captions on video content in the language native to where he was going. Simply seeing their own language represented on screen, even if they didn’t need it for understanding, was a deeply appreciated sign of respect. 

When people can see themselves in the content -- including through language -- they feel more connected to the organization which pays dividends far greater than the effort it takes to be considerate of language. 

Community Translation - The Ultimate Engagement Tool 

Have you ever watched a TED Talk? Of course you have. If you go to and click on a TED Talk, at the bottom of the player you will see an icon for Subtitles. 

For example, some videos have 22 language choices available. Because of these Subtitles, millions more people are watching videos with deep connection and understanding than there would be if they were only in English.

You may think, “This is great, but TED must have a massive budget to do all those subtitles.”


Those subtitles are created by the community! Using Community Translation, a model invented by Smolens, TED and many other organizations invite their most engaged users to open the doors to new languages for them. 

What’s amazing about this model is that by translating a video you have no choice but to be deeply engaged in the content. 

Imagine for a minute your members around the world spending time to translate your content into their native language, to make it more accessible to a much larger audience. In the process, they become volunteer contributors with deep emotional connections to the organization. 

Technology Makes it Easy

Dotsub has technology that makes it easy to manage a group of volunteer translators and have some people doing translation while others edit and proof, resulting in high quality subtitles. 

This technology is not expensive. What takes effort is the community management side of things, to engage your members and set up the structure for participation. But this effort is member (or donor, fan or customer) engagement -- something you are in the business of doing anyway!

Gather Voices in All the Languages

Gather Voices was founded to raise the voices of those not usually in the conversation. Language is a big part of that.  Within the Gather Voices platform we can auto-detect and machine caption in over 30 languages. Gather Voices Video Relationship Management Software, which powers the creation of user-generated video, has multilingual captioning built-in.

We are also proud to be in a partnership with Dotsub to bring professional and community translation to videos gathered from around the world. 

For more information on Dotsub just reach out to us at Gather Voices, request a demo and we’ll help set you up.

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