Free labour: Volunteering and Internships

I am somewhat surprised that the issue of internships vs volunteering does not come up more often in the comments. Maybe it’s because the distinction is crystal clear to most, which is a good thing. In any case, this article from the Ottawa Citizen has an excellent example of each.


Recently, she signed up as volunteer co-ordinator for the Dress for Success Foundation, which trains and clothes needy women looking for work. While that takes several hours a day, she also volunteers at Goodlife Fitness’ daycare, teaches at Blessed Sacrament Church and is a skating coach for the West Carleton Hockey Association.

Unfair internship:

“A lot of shows have volunteer internships, but they’re very hard to get,” says Borer, who lived with other interns in Los Angeles and was supported by his parents during his stay.

“It’s free labour for the huge corporation, but it’s also experience for me.

“I believe that it will further my résumé, absolutely. I assume it would set me apart from other 20-year-olds who have just finished the same program. It’s a very competitive industry. So if you can do volunteer work, it’s extremely beneficial.”

Very beneficial for you and detrimental to everyone else who now has to work for free to remain competitive. That’s why there’s a law to address this collective action problem.

Now, the bad news.

Molina says those numbers appear to be shrinking because “volunteering isn’t as sexy as an internship,” which is more about getting work experience than contributing to the community.

Oh dear.


5 Responses to Free labour: Volunteering and Internships

  1. 09Alum says:

    Volunteering should be about doing something beneficial for the community. If you are doing an internship for a company and you are working and the company is benefiting then you really should be getting paid. Not to mention the fact that most students need a paying job–they can’t live on a non-existent pay check.

  2. Rusty says:

    I currently volunteer and have an internship. I am doing this to better my chances of getting into an MBA program after I finish. Volunteering and internships both have their strong points. With volunteering you get a chance to help out the community, and with an internship you get a chance to try out jobs in a particular field.

  3. Jen says:

    While it seems that we can clearly see the difference between volunteering and interning, the Fair Labor Standards Act about interns does not address interns in non-profit organizations. I remember reading an article that stated this was because interns could be seen as volunteers in a non-profit setting. As someone who is pursuing a career in a non-profit industry, I can clearly see the difference.

  4. ExIntern says:

    Hi Jen,
    You are right that non-profit does not mean non-revenue. Many companies do not turn a profit certain years and that does not exempt them from paying a salary to their staff.

  5. I completely agree with everything said on this blog. I am an unpaid intern and am stuggling to find work so will follow this blog with interest.

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