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So, You Want An Intern, Eh?

Posted By Melina Condren, Director of Services for Non-Profits, February 16, 2017
Updated: October 6, 2015

Estimated reading time - 3 minutes 

Over the past few years, unpaid internships have become quite a hot topic— whether people think that unpaid internships provide good work experience or they worry that organizations are just taking advantage of free labour, everyone seems eager to discuss this growing trend. If you’re considering engaging an unpaid intern, ask yourself a few simple questions to help kick start the decision-making process:


Would the internship benefit the intern more than the organization?

We’ve written before about the difference between an unpaid intern and a volunteer. A volunteer offers their time with the understanding that the primary benefit is for the organization. An intern, on the other hand, should receive significant training and experience in exchange for their work. In fact, according to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, the organization should receive “little, if any, benefit from the activity of the intern.”

Are you equipped to provide a solid educational experience?

If you’re planning to engage an unpaid intern, you need to make sure that you can contribute a significant amount of time and effort to provide an educational experience that will help the intern advance their career. This means having dedicated and knowledgeable staff who will be able to teach and mentor the intern, and having projects on the go that the intern can contribute to in a meaningful way. If you think it would be nice to have someone around to do the paperwork and fetch the coffee, an internship is not the right choice to meet your needs—or the needs of the intern.

Would the intern be replacing a paid position?

According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, having an intern replace a paid position is simply not an option. The intern’s training should not take away paid work from someone else, so setting up an internship should never be used as a money-saving strategy.


Here at Volunteer Toronto, we think that unpaid work in the form of volunteerism can be hugely beneficial to individuals, organizations, and communities. For individuals, volunteering can help build their social network, develop new skills, improve their health and wellbeing, and allow them to contribute to meaningful causes. For organizations, volunteers build capacity, strengthen ties with the community, and help to achieve the organization’s mission. For communities, volunteering encourages civic engagement and allows people to work together toward common goals. But unpaid interns are NOT volunteers, and it’s important to remember the distinction.

If you want someone to donate their time to your organization in a way that will be meaningful to them, add value to your programs, and help you achieve your mission, engage a volunteer. If you want to provide stellar work training and the opportunity for career advancement, consider starting an internship program or partnering with a school to provide student placements. But if you’re looking for someone to work full-time doing menial tasks for free, you may need to come up with a different plan.


  Melina oversees all of Volunteer Toronto's services for organizations, including our training program, volunteer management conference, subscriptions program, and new Grassroots Growth project. Her priority is to ensure our services are effectively helping non-profits build capacity through volunteer involvement and continue to meet the ever-evolving needs of the voluntary sector.

Tags:  Career  Interns  Mentorship  Unpaid Internships  Work  Work Experience  Working for Free 

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