As VO actors, we are always looking for new and creative ways to increase our clientele. Volunteering for voice-over work is a great way to accumulate work experience behind the mic or practice performing in front of an audience, while also providing much needed pro-bono work for non-profit organizations and initiatives. You can develop your technique while lending your voice to worthy causes – a win/win. Volunteering is also one of the easiest ways to build future contacts and clients. Donating your time and voice is an excellent way to advertise your talent. And wherever you live, there are organizations that would love to have your professional voice to tell their stories and promote their messages.
You can offer your talent for Public Service Announcements (PSAs) on TV, radio, and the internet. There are also organizations nationwide that need great voices to read audio-books or news for the vision-impaired or reading-challenged. And nearly every city and town have reading programs to assist the reading-impaired, so if you are unable to volunteer your time recording in-house at a local studio or from your home studio, there are plenty of other options. Offer to be a master of ceremonies at a charity event. Read books for children at local libraries and schools. Perform for seniors at retirement centers and nursing homes.
The following are organizations which enlist volunteers and are always on the lookout for new talent to help out.
Gatewave: www.gatewave.org (Volunteers record from home): Gatewave is known as a Blind Reader radio service, which provides news broadcast services for the blind. Their mission is to make the service available to as many listeners as possible and to provide listeners with relevant information they’d find hard to get elsewhere. It is available 24 hours a day through more than 3000 special radios in the New York area, in local hospitals and nursing homes, through a dozen other reading services in other parts of the country, and through the mobile app iBlink Radio. Volunteers create six new hours of programming a day, from newspapers and magazines, covering everything from local, national and international news to health, science, sports, and celebrity news.
Learning Ally: www.learningally.org (Volunteers record in-house):
Learning Ally (formerly Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic) is one of the most prominent reading impaired production organizations. It was founded in 1948 and serves more than 300,000 K-12, college and graduate students, veterans and lifelong learners. Volunteers at local chapters are trained to read textbooks and other literature titles to produce downloadable audiobooks. They currently have more than 6,000 volunteers across the U.S.
Librivox: www.librivox.org (Volunteers record from home): Librivox has volunteers record small chunks from fiction and non-fiction titles. They offer public exposure by listing volunteers in their search engine, as well as the opportunity to promote themselves and their websites at the beginning or end of each recording.
Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB): www.cnib.ca (Volunteers record in-house): CNIB is an option for those who reside in Canada, near Toronto. Like Learning Ally, they have volunteers record in-house, in pairs or solo. They produce fiction and non-fiction audiobooks as well as audio versions of magazines, for their Library Collection.
Airs LA – Audio Internet Reading Service of Los Angeles: www.airsla.org (Volunteers record from home): Airs-LA enlists volunteers from the LA area and beyond to record news, information and entertainment, which are produced as free podcasts for their vision-challenged subscribers. Examples of their work include narration of selected magazines, consumer product information and entertainment line-ups and reviews.
The options for volunteering range far and wide, but you want to have your eyes wide open when considering for whom to donate your time and talent. As discussed, DO volunteer for non-profit productions and initiatives. Also consider working pro-bono on student/educational projects. Such productions are generally on a shoe-string budget, but you can be sure the producers of them aim to make the highest quality work possible. And your contribution to it could provide both a useful connection with an up-and-coming content creator and a nice new spot to add to your demo and resume. However, always proceed cautiously when appraising a potential pro-bono opportunity, because there are people and places to whom you should absolutely not offer yourself for free. Do NOT volunteer for productions intended to market, sell or promote a product or service. This includes pretty much all non-PSA commercial and narration work. If it’s for-profit, you should be part of the profit taking. Producers who try to get you to work on such jobs for free (as opposed to when you offer to do one job for free to help facilitate your first booking) are exploitative and should be avoided.
So go out and volunteer. It helps provide a much-needed service; your altruism will feel good; and every experience will add to your portfolio, help keep your chops fresh and potentially open the door for new clients.
Alan Schwartz is a nationally recognized voice over talent who has served as the voice for Sprite, Verizon, Smirnoff Ice, and “Alex” from the Mac Operating System, among others. You can find more of his work at ajsvoiceover.com.