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Doing it right for interns

It’s a theme that we have covered before – volunteers, interns, paid and unpaid – but it’s one I think is worth revisiting especially as we look for more helping hands in the run-up to Christmas.

I am very aware of the discussions around unpaid internships, added to by the fact we are based just around the corner from Unite union. It’s hugely important to me that we keep an eye on how internships benefit the individual (not the organisation) but I feel that there is potential for the anti-unpaid-internships argument to impact on the way we view volunteering itself.

Consider Jo Swinson’s comment in a parliamentary debate earlier this year when she said “if someone is offering their time of their own free will and they can come and go as they please, they are a volunteer, but if they are required to perform specific tasks and can be disciplined if duties are not performed as agreed, they are a worker”.

What I take from this is that, because a volunteer or an intern is not being paid, they are somehow contributing less. Swinson seems to infer that volunteers aren’t asked to perform specific tasks, aren’t given responsibility and, by extension, aren’t given the opportunity to make a change. It’s hardly in the ‘Big Society’ spirit of doing something to make a difference.

I’m not defending internships that employ people on a full-time basis for six months with the (often unfulfilled) promise of a job at the end. That, obviously, is wrong.

It’s a complex discussion that requires more time and space than this blog but it feels important not to instantly dismiss short, unpaid internships automatically as ‘wrong’. For many of our interns and volunteers, it’s a chance to develop skills and experience as well as being an enormous help for our small team here. Programmes like vInspired and Go Think Big and are specifically targeted at young people looking for work experience whereas the charity CSV helps full-time employees volunteer as part of their jobs, for example.

I hope this blog plays some part in making a stand against exploitation at the same time as promoting the very valuable contribution made by our interns and volunteers.

The big three – how we empower our volunteers and interns

1. Give work that makes a difference

We don’t want to have an intern with us to make cups of tea or to photocopy – it’s a waste of their time and ours.

Instead, we make sure that our volunteers and interns are involved in every aspect of the TNBA day – so researching suppliers, speaking to our supporters, putting together fundraising packs and helping out onsite at events.

Everything a volunteer does makes a difference.

2. Make it meaningful

Many of our volunteers may be with us for work experience, to develop their skills, learn more about work in the third sector or as part of a college or university course.

We always want to support our volunteers with whatever they are doing – so provide references and recommendations to help them on their next step.

3. Part of the team

We’re a small and close-knit team here and that extends to our volunteers and interns – we want volunteers to feel at home, so we make sure we say ‘thank you’ properly for their hard work and ensure that the biscuit tin is well-stocked!

Useful resources:

Do it Volunteering



Go Think Big


If you are interested in becoming an intern  for The National Brain Appeal – or volunteering for a few hours or on a regular basis – please do get in touch.

Thank you. Theresa


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