Reports from the Field

Volunteer or Intern: What’s The Difference?

Volunteer or Intern: Whats The Difference?

If you’ve found yourself in the position to take a summer or a gap year to volunteer or work as an intern, you may be wondering, “What really is the difference between volunteering and interning?” or “How do I know which opportunity is right for me?” Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably and subtle but distinct differences between the opportunities are lost.

Internships and volunteer opportunities are an excellent choice for those looking for new experiences. Whether you’re looking to get involved in a local organization or hoping to spend some time abroad, there are many organizations looking for excited and motivated individuals to fill internship and volunteer positions. Both internships and volunteer positions can be incredibly rewarding and are wonderful additions to a job application or resume. However, there are some key differences that set the two apart.

1. Compensation
Depending on your particular circumstances, whether or not you will be financially compensated for your work may be at the forefront of your mind in choosing between a volunteer opportunity or an internship position. As the name implies, volunteers typically do not receive monetary compensation for their work. Rather, they offer their time and talents to a particular project or organization, free of charge.

Internships, on the other hand, vary greatly when it comes to compensation. Many organizations and programs offer an established salary to their interns, as outlined in their internship contractual agreements. While other internships do not offer a monetary salary, they may provide other compensatory benefits such as educational credit and vouchers for meals or transportation.

There are also volunteer and internship payments that require a fee for participation. These, like the opportunities Global Nomadic offers, provide the benefit of bypassing competitive and lengthy application processes to gain industry experience more quickly than other placements. Organizations that offer these opportunities often have high program costs that are covered by the project fees paid by participants.

2. Worker’s Contract
In many ways, internships operate similarly to a professional job. Interns have a set of rules and guidelines, such as required working hours and policies for missing work, that they are expected to follow. An intern’s understanding of and agreement to these standards is established through a signed contract, through which the intern agrees to abide by the expectations of the company.

Volunteer positions, on the other hand, tend to be more flexible. Many volunteer positions do not require a signed contract and the volunteer has greater influence and personal say in determining the structure of their work. For example, The volunteer themselves may determine the schedule and time frame in which they are able to work.

3. Experience v. Career Focus
The goal and focus of a volunteer position is often based on experiences. For example, many individuals choose to volunteer because they want to make a difference or give back to their communities. Altruism is a common motivating factor for those choosing to pursue volunteer work. People often choose specific volunteer positions based on community needs or social issues they are passionate about. Others may choose to volunteer because it can provide an opportunity for self-discovery or for travel. Participating in a volunteer program abroad, for example, provides ample new experiences that can only come from living and working immersed in another culture.

Alternatively, internships are typically aimed at career preparation. The goal in seeking an internship is often to gain marketable work experience and to make networking connections that could lead to a stable career in the future. Interns often look for positions within particular companies or industries that match their career aspirations and areas of interest. For example, students who’ve studied engineering will likely pursue internships within the engineering industry in order to learn the ins and outs of the trade.

4. Time frame
Depending on the volunteer opportunity, there may or may not be a clearly defined time frame for the work. For example, you may participate in a two-week volunteer mission trip with a clear start and end date. On the other hand, many volunteer opportunities can be continued indefinitely, such as volunteering at a local nursing home or soup kitchen. You may even be able to decide which days of the week or month you are available to volunteer.

On the flip side, internships are always a short term commitment. When you sign an internship contract, there will be a clearly defined start date and a clearly defined end date. Your internship may last six months or a year, but will not continue indefinitely. They also tend to have more rigid schedules defined by the company, not the intern.

Although similar, volunteer programs and internship opportunities are clearly not the same. There are unique differences, benefits, and drawbacks to both. Whether an internship or volunteer program is a better choice depends entirely on the unique needs and desires of the individual. The differences listed above can help you in determining which opportunity is the best fit for you! Either way, you are sure to have a memorable and meaningful experience that can impact your life and career for years to come!

If you’re interested in pursuing a volunteer or internship opportunity, click here to learn more about Global Nomadic’s open projects!



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Mikayla Colthirst-Reid
Posted on: 13 Jun 2019

Mikayla is a Global Nomadic contributor of awesome and engaging content to help inform Global Nomads!