Volunteering vs. Interning: The Reality

There is a difference between volunteering at a nonprofit and interning for one. I’ve done both and, while the motivations for volunteering and interning may be similar, there is a huge difference between the levels of involvement and commitment required for each.


From my experience, volunteering at a nonprofit involves signing a waiver, scheduling a time to volunteer, showing up to do so, putting on a volunteer badge, and doing one of six things:

  1. sorting donations
  2. cleaning rooms
  3. picking up trash
  4. preparing food
  5. serving food
  6. answering and forwarding phone calls

With very few exceptions, every volunteer task is menial labor. Volunteering at Beloved Streets of America isn’t any different. We need people to help clear out debris from the future sites of the hydroponics farm and the MLK Legacy Park. We need people to cook and serve food at our food drives and sort clothing for our clothing drives. All important tasks–but interning is a whole other ballgame.


As an intern, I lead a team. I am responsible for brainstorming blog topics with my team, researching those topics, assigning some to the other blogger, editing their work, having my work edited, presenting our work to the supervisors, correcting the work according to what they want, posting it, and promoting it–all on a weekly deadline. Sound familiar?

It should. It’s how the journalism/blogging team of any major company runs. Interning, paid or unpaid, is a job.

And I promise all the other interns in all the other departments (PR, graphic design, human resources, etc.) work just as hard and consistently. I get a little miffed whenever people call us volunteers because it denigrates not only what we do for Beloved Streets of America, but what Beloved Streets of America does for us. I’ve had more mentoring and opportunities to grow–both as a professional and a person–at Beloved Streets than I have working anywhere else. Opportunities I don’t think I would have gotten as a volunteer.

So, whatever you call it, I strongly urge you, should you need an internship or know someone who does, to go to belovedstreetsofamerica.org and get involved.

Remember: It’s not a black thing, it’s the right thing.



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