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NCVO: Charity volunteer ‘internships’ must be genuine development opportunities

Charities have been warned against inadvertently exploiting the precarious employment situation of young people by creating poor-quality 'intern' positions.

In new guidance published today, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which represents charities, says that volunteer 'interns' can add a lot of value to charities' work. But NCVO warned charities they must ensure that volunteer roles described as 'internships' provide genuine scope for skill development. NCVO said it was concerned that some organisations have come to rely on volunteer interns to carry out tasks that do not offer them the development opportunities they were expecting.

Among a number of recommendations for charities, the guidance makes clear that volunteers must be allowed flexibility to study or work around their volunteering, and warned that stipulating 9-5, five-day-a-week hours may be incompatible with minimum wage law.

Commenting, Justin Davis Smith, director of volunteering at NCVO, said:

'It's clear that volunteers in all roles add a lot to charities' work, doing valuable and skilled jobs. Indeed many charities couldn't exist without the support and dedication of volunteers in all areas of their organisation.

'While many people who volunteer do so at least in part to gain new skills and experience, interns are often in a particularly vulnerable position at the start of their careers. In the current job market, many feel that gaining experience this way is the only route to the career they want.

'Charities need to ensure that they are not inadvertently taking advantage of this by ensuring that these volunteers get the genuine skills development that they are hoping for. We've seen very positive examples of charities who invest seriously in creating internship schemes that offer volunteers substantial support and development, and this is a standard all should be aspiring to.

'Charities have taken to using the term 'intern' because it attracts more people to volunteer positions. But it's important that these volunteers' expectations are met. Volunteering must always be a two-way relationship. There should be no such thing as an 'unpaid internship' in charities. The law here is quite clear. A role should either be a paid one, or a proper volunteer role.'

The guidance has been developed with input from Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, The National Trust, and the RSPB.


'Volunteer internships in the voluntary sector - review and guidance' is published today.

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