Volunteer Your Way to an Internship or First Job

Do you love to volunteer? This is a great way to build your career credentials and network! You will be able to find meaningful work experience and valuable connections at many nonprofit organizations.

Volunteer Your Way to an Internship or First Job

My nephew Daniel was able to parlay a love of film during college into a wonderful career in video production. He accomplished this after several volunteer positions and internships at non-profits.  He worked at a local film festival and learned all aspects of the business: merchandising, membership, volunteer management, film production and corporate sponsorships.  At another nonprofit, Daniel learned public relations, community relations, and fundraising. He wrote website updates, press releases and other key communications. Great things for any business leader to learn.

Daniel is now in a dream career at a top video gaming company in California. He manages a production team that is responsible for content processing and ingestion of movies and TV episodes into the video game platform. Daniel is the first one to say that his volunteer internships at non-profits were a key factor to his success.

Find an organization where you can really make a difference.  Find a place that you can learn, grow and take on real responsibility. Many non-profits are establishing internship programs to find the best and brightest students.  These organizations are creating talent pipelines, just like Fortune 500 companies do.

Here are some typical benefits of volunteering or interning at a nonprofit:

  • Responsibility. Many students discover that they are able to assume a great deal more responsibility, particularly at smaller non-profits. Look forward to acquiring new skills in the process.
  • Structured learning opportunities. Many non-profits provide formal training and learning opportunities or classes. Look for programs that rotate department leaders or experts from HR, IT or marketing as trainers or speakers.
  • Team projects. Some nonprofit organizations will ask interns to participate in group projects. Many of these are very creative projects with high impact. This is also a great chance to get to know the other interns.
  • Mentoring. Expect to meet and interact with senior leaders at many nonprofit organizations. Along with training, many non-profits will create mentoring type of opportunities such as one-on-ones or coffee Q & A with a CEO or executive staff members.
  • Networking. Your networking opportunities are not limited to the staff at a nonprofit. Many times interns will interact with volunteers from local companies or board members. You may even have the opportunity to meet local business leaders at a benefit or event for your nonprofit organization.
  • Confidence and resume. Your great work at a nonprofit will definitely build your confidence. Be sure to add your new skills and projects to your resume and LinkedIn profile.

Find the right nonprofit that has a mission to match your passion. Daniel did just that and worked his way into a dream career.  There are many organizations that support a variety of causes, so pick what’s best for you. You can also consider working part time at a nonprofit along with the other work, internships or clubs that you are involved with. You might decide to start your career at a nonprofit after college. At the very least, you can learn and network while you have a chance to make a real difference!  Have you thought of volunteering your way to success?

Sandra Long

Sandra Long is the author of the bestselling book LinkedIn For Personal Branding: The Ultimate Guide. She is also the managing partner of Post Road Consulting LLC. Sandra and her team work with corporations, universities, and individuals to drive successful sales, career, and talent acquisition results.

Reader Interactions


  1. Shane Granger says

    Internships, if done correctly can offer openings to permanent and sustainable work. An internship should not be employment though:

    When assessing whether the parties intended to form a legally binding employment relationship some key indicators would be:

    * Purpose of the arrangement. Was it to provide work experience to the person or was it to get the person to do work to assist with the business outputs and productivity?

    * Length of time. Generally, the longer the period of placement, the more likely the person is an employee;

    • The person’s obligations in the workplace. Although the person may do some productive activities during a placement, they are less likely to be considered an employee if there is no expectation or requirement of productivity in the workplace;

    * Who benefits from the arrangement? The main benefit of a genuine work placement or internship should flow to the person doing the placement. If a business is gaining a significant benefit as a result of engaging the person, this may indicate an employment relationship has been formed. Unpaid work experience programs are less likely to involve employment if they are primarily observational

    * Was the placement entered into through a university or vocational training organisation program? If so, then it is unlikely that an employment relationship exists.

    Every example, from his initial work at a film festival, that you provide in relation to Daniel is an employment relationship. When internships are used in this way they form an exploitative relationship. The fact that analysts then highlight outlier experiences as an example to others cements this disenfranchising relationship on others.

    Sandra, what you are asking for is the youth of today to ‘hustle for nothing’ in the hope of a sustainable job at some point in the future.

    Hope is not a strategy.

  2. Sandra Long says

    HI Shane and thanks for your comments. I agree with most of what you are saying, as you make some excellent points. However, my blog post is not about unpaid internships. I do not ask the youth of today to “hustle for nothing”. I was just writing a short blog post about the value of volunteering for a non-profit organization. I have seen the many ways that it can be beneficial to college students. Thanks again. Sandra

  3. Elina @Directing Edge says

    I agree with you. Volunteering for an internship can actually make the difference. As fresh graduates the main focus should be on learning from practical world and volunteering can be a great learning opportunity for them. Additionally, these activities will also add a spark to fresh graduates resume.


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