Paid Vs Unpaid Internships

main.jpgHave you had an internship experience that was unpaid? For many of you, especially those in the nonprofit sector, that answer will be yes. According to a 2010 study by Intern Bridge, Inc., 57 percent of internships at nonprofits were unpaid, compared with 48 percent in government and 34 percent at for-profit businesses.

YNPN Twin Cities has teamed up with leading capacity building nonprofit organizations, Pollen Midwest, Springboard for the Arts and Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, to change the way that paid and unpaid internships are promoted on online job boards and within our sector. Now on MCN’s, Springboard for the Arts’, and Pollen Midwest’s job boards, paid internships will be listed separately from unpaid internships, which will be found in a different section or with the volunteer opportunities. This change allows internship seekers to search only for paid internships and promotes to the nonprofit sector that paid internships will attract more competitive, qualified candidates. YNPN Twin Cities approached these three capacity building organizations to make this change because we saw our members and college students had a difficult time sorting between unpaid and paid opportunities - a big difference when you’re building your work experience.

It’s important to acknowledge that simply “making internships paid” is potentially challenging or outright unrealistic for some small nonprofit organizations that have historically depended on these types of positions. Within YNPN Twin Cities, we discussed this in depth when deciding to advocate for this change. Of course, this is good for young professionals seeking internships, but is it good, or realistic for nonprofits? We feel strongly that the answer is yes; this is an important and necessary change to advocate for within our sector.

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, wrote in the New York Times this year, “Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. And while many Americans believe fervently and faithfully in expanding opportunity, America’s internship-industrial complex does just the opposite.” He’s right. Unpaid internships are of questionable legality and often it’s found that many of these positions don’t meet the core federal criteria to allow them to take place. There is risk involved with unpaid internships too, as we have seen increasing litigation taking place surrounding them. Additionally, there are serious equity issues connected to gender, race, and socioeconomic status to consider as well. The same Intern Bridge, Inc. report cited above found that women were much more likely to be found in unpaid internship positions than men, especially at nonprofits.

This change by Pollen, MCN, and Springboard is an important first step. According to Jon Pratt, Executive Director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, this change has already resulted in 20 paid internship postings and 70 unpaid - a small but great change in the right direction. Will unpaid internships still exist? Of course. However, our hope is that this will be a signal to the Twin Cities nonprofits that paid internships are the equitable path forward for our sector.

 *This post reflects YNPN Twin Cities’s strategic plan priority of Innovative Thought Leadership & Sector Shaping. To learn more about YNPN Twin Cities and our work, visit

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