I had four internships during college and the fall immediately after graduation — two for news publications, one for a local arts foundation and one for a professional association.
For one of the news internships, I received course credit because it took place during my semester in London, where visa laws are strict. The rest were unpaid, ranging in time commitments from two to 20 hours a week.
Internships are often mutually beneficial to both the intern and the organization they’re working for. The intern learns new skills and makes professional connections, whereas the organization gets an extra hand completing tasks and gains an advocate, and possibly a future hire.
I’m grateful for all of my internships because the experiences I had and the people I met through them helped me get to where I am (a media company that does pay its interns). But I also spent my own money traveling to them, and at one point was working as many as 60 to 70 hours a week while holding down two part-time jobs and an unpaid internship.
And as it turns out, not all internships are equal in worth: Unpaid internships lead to fewer job offers than paid ones do — 37 percent vs. 63.1 percent, according to a study conducted by National Association of Colleges and Employers. (Accordingly, I had no job lined up after graduation. Then again, I majored in media studies and psychology.)
There are actually pretty strict rules set forth by the Department of Labor in determining whether a for-profit, private-sector organization is allowed to offer unpaid internships. Essentially, the experience has to offer enough educational benefit to the intern to be considered payment on its own. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, such an internship may be unpaid if the following are met:
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- “The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
- The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.”
The rules are a little different for nonprofit organizations — if they classify the internship as a “volunteer” experience, pay is not required. That can be a tricky distinction, though. The Department of Labor considers factors such as whether any compensation or benefits are expected and whether the work is full-time or less when determining whether an experience counts as volunteering. Read more here, here and here.
Founder Katie Monroe began as a BCGP intern herself during the summer of 2010 while a student at Haverford College. Her internship wasn’t paid through the organization, but through her school. She recognized this wasn’t so common, though.
“Unpaid internships are the reality in the nonprofit world as it currently exists, but whenever possible, it’s important to me that folks get compensated for the very real work they are doing for our organizations,” Monroe wrote in an email, adding that nowadays, BCGP isn’t always able to pay interns, but does often offer other perks. One intern recently received a new bike, for instance.
"Whenever possible, it's important to me that folks get compensated for the very real work they are doing for our organizations."
“We have lots of great sponsors and partnerships we often utilize to compensate our interns the best we can,” she said. “In this case I felt like we could crowdsource this funding from our vibrant Women Bike PHL community, so I wanted to go for it!”
The spring fundraising campaign’s goal is $4,000 to fund the intern at $15 an hour for 10 hours per week, and to pay for “basic programming expenses” such as transportation and venue rental that will pop up over the summer, Monroe said. Whoever is selected will get hands-on experience organizing monthly rides, classes, events and communications, “but also some space to be creative and bring their own vision to the programming.”
(Women Bike PHL won’t discriminate against applicants based on gender identity, Monroe emphasized — however, “given the Women Bike PHL community is made up of woman-identified, trans, or gender-non-conforming people, someone who fits one of those descriptions would probably be best suited for understanding the work and coordinating with the people involved in Women Bike PHL.” Women of color are especially encouraged to apply.)
In the campaign itself, Women Bike PHL is offering perks such as a gift certificate to Di Bruno Brothers and a one-hour shopping trip with Monroe, the new intern and Di Bruno Brothers owner Emilio Mignucci. The program’s fans are encouraged to think of their donations as a direct support of its mission: Its website reads, “If you believe that getting more women riding bikes makes our city better, this is your chance to help.”
For Monroe, the question of whether her interns should be paid is, in a way, one of karma.
“I think it was definitely good for my own self worth to be paid for my time [as an intern] and I hope to pay it forward in any opportunities I’m able to create for others,” she said.
Younger me appreciates that very much.-30-
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