Volunteering vs Internships: A Grad’s Guide to Breaking Into Non-Profit
It’s no surprise that jobs in non-profit are extremely sought after. But for many people, there’s a question of how to actually get that first non-profit role—the one that gives you the experience and knowledge to build a full-fledged career in the charity sector.
Like most industries, there’s no sure-fire tricks that guarantee you a job. It all comes down to the quality of your application and your drive to make a difference. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to gain the experience and expertise that will make that application shine.
That’s why internships and volunteering are so important. They give you practical knowledge of the sector and how it functions. And that’s invaluable for anyone looking to secure a full-time role.
Not sure which route is right for you? Here’s some advice to help you make an informed decision.
Volunteering your way to a paid position
There is no better way to enter non-profit than to start with the sector’s focus, helping others. Volunteering allows you to highlight your dedication to a particular cause, while simultaneously gaining an insight into the operational side of things.
Did you know 82% of hiring managers are likely to choose a candidate with volunteering experience? That’s because volunteering shows that you’re passionate, proactive and care more about the cause than about compensation.
Naturally, you’ll meet new people, and from this, you’ll gain a network that can help you advance through the sector. These people can support you in many ways, from telling you about new job opportunities to putting in the right word with someone higher up in an organisation, offering a much better chance of getting a job. And according to CharityJob research, over 50% of the charities typically hire from their volunteer network. So that means they’re likely to consider you first before opening the role to outside candidates.
Volunteering will also develop your soft skills—things like empathy, tact and problem-solving, which are all extremely important when working with vulnerable people. You’ll interact with a diverse range of people from all sorts of backgrounds, which will teach you the best ways to communicate and connect with others.
But keep in mind—most volunteering roles are unpaid. So make sure you are still supporting yourself financially. The good news is most charities don’t expect you to volunteer full-time, so you can spend a few days a week helping out and the rest of the time at your part-time job.
Are non-profit internships the way forward?
Nowadays, internships are the go-to method for students looking to add experience to their CVs. You can do an internship during uni as a year in industry or wait until after you graduate, and either option is a perfect way for you to get your foot in the door of a non-profit organisation.
Like volunteering, if you perform well during the internship period, there is the chance that your employer could offer you a full-time position, which will relieve you of the stress of job hunting when you have finished your placement. Internships are also most often paid, which of course is a bonus!
The main difference between interning and volunteering is that interns spend more time with the organisation. A volunteer may only be involved a few hours or days a week, but an intern is likely to be in the office full-time. You also have more opportunity to learn about a range of skills and responsibilities, while a volunteer role can be more specific (i.e. volunteer fundraiser, volunteer social media executive, events volunteer).
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Through an internship, you’ll learn the ins and outs of an organisation from professionals in the field. This will allow you to work out whether or not a career in this sector is for you. Internships are also a great stepping stone between school and full-time work—the big leap can be a daunting change.
Ultimately, an internship offers practical charity experience that will boost any future job application. You’ll be developing skills such as volunteer management, social impact and business communication—all of which will massively stand out to any prospective employer.
It’s worth noting that internships in non-profit are less available than in the for-profit sector. But that’s not to say a non-profit internship isn’t achievable. Schemes such as Student Hubs Social and Voluntary Placement help organisations find extra help when needed.
Take the time to make an informed decision
So, whether you choose to start an internship or join a volunteering team, you’ll be gaining invaluable experience that you can add to your CV. Entering the non-profit sector is an enriching career path that will not leave you fulfilled, but is also helping others.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start building that valuable experience.