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The Sparking Controversy about Volunteer Internships

There was a time when the word “intern” was used mainly for doctors-in-training. Over the last 50 years, however, the concept has widened to include many different experiences in nonprofit, government and for-profit settings. Some internships are formal requirements through university courses, while others are totally individual to the intern and the host organization. Some are paid (medical interns are considered staff), others are remunerated through stipends or living expenses, and many are totally volunteer and unpaid.

Right now there is growing opposition to unpaid internships in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere. Opponents are quite vocal and have gained allies among labor unions and some politicians, taking their cause to the courts in an attempt to control internships or ban them outright. Among other things, these opponents state that internships: exploit the young adults seeking them; do not provide the training or professional development often promised; exclude those from low-income backgrounds who cannot afford to volunteer and forgo compensation; and benefit the recipient sponsors in ways that skirt labor and tax laws.

At the same, the volunteer field has grabbed onto the concept of internships as a great way to attract a wide range of new volunteers into roles with status and co-worker respect.

Which side is right? What – if anything – is clear cut and what is muddied or muddled? In this Points of View, authors Rob Jackson and Susan J. Ellis debate the issues and nuances of the internship dilemma. 

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The Role of Business in Social Causes in the 1970s

In April 1973, the Saturday Review published a special business supplement, “Can the Businessman Meet Our Social Needs?” In this series of essays, noted business authority Peter F. Drucker and then New York City deputy mayor Edward K. Hamilton debated the pros and cons of this question. Though “corporate social responsibility” was a relatively new concept at the time, the issue of balancing responsibility among businesses, the nonprofit sector and government remains fresh 40 years later. This Voices article looks at the history of business philanthropy in the late 20th century, rediscovering examples of workplace volunteering that have faded from sight.

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If They Know So Much About HR, Why Do Their Employees Prefer Volunteering Over Work?

e-Volunteerism’s Steve McCurley and Susan J. Ellis recently attended the 2010 National Conference on Volunteering and Service, where they were deluged with what is becoming an increasingly common message: “Don’t despair. For-profit corporations and their business wisdom are coming to save you.” The obvious premise of the push towards such "new" concepts as pro bono volunteering is the age-old assumption that agencies are best when “operating like a business.” This comes along with the assumption that the so-called do-gooder types in nonprofits (and the incompetents in public service) obviously lack business skills, which implies that anyone from a corporation can put an agency on the right track. 

In this Points of View, both Ellis and McCurley unleash a round of post-July 4th fireworks to question why corporations have to be so “smugly sanctimonious” about sharing their expertise. These volunteering experts readily acknowledge that corporations do have some useful knowledge, and that many non-profit and government organizations could certainly improve their management practices. But, they explain, a corporation’s notion of wisdom might not match a non-profit’s notion of wisdom, especially when it comes to volunteering.

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Get on Board the Pro Bono Express

There’s a huge train leaving the station, and it’s loaded with resources that many say have the potential to fire a capacity building revolution in the nonprofit/government organization service “industry.” Let’s call it “The Pro Bono Express.” Pro bono is the latest buzzword whenever folks gather to talk about volunteerism and service in the United States. Highly skilled volunteers are not a new phenomenon, but the current twist means that for-profit corporations, especially, are seeking to offer the expertise of their employees in strategic ways that make a difference to the community.  

But what’s powering this train? What is it carrying? Can the promise be delivered? And why are some nonprofits and government organizations already on board and others concerned they’ll be left waving at the station? In this e-Volunteerism feature, author David Warshaw explores these questions and argues that finding a way to engage pro bono volunteers should be on every organization’s agenda.  

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Volunteering Through the Workplace

One of the fastest growing and most significant new ways of volunteering in the past 20 years has been volunteering through one’s workplace. Major corporations have created extensive programs to encourage and enable their employees to volunteer and this form of business social responsibility is now expanding to small businesses and government agencies. Oddly enough, the nonprofit community seems to be the only sector lagging behind in assisting its employees to volunteer in their communities. 

In this Along the Web, we’ll organize workplace volunteering topics into three categories:

Children Are Our Future

Those of us involved with volunteerism for a long time have always thought that the easiest way to ensure its future is to teach volunteering to children at a very early age. In fact, research shows that those who volunteer as children are much more likely to continue to volunteer as adults.  In this Points of View, Steve McCurley and Susan Ellis, long-time proponents of involving children as volunteers, review methods (some good, some questionable) that organizations and individuals now use to encourage volunteer participation by children. They discuss the biggest barrier to volunteering by children – the reluctance of agencies to accept them. And then they turn the tables and ask the readers for their own points of view on this topic. Is volunteering a valuable experience to provide to young children? What do children gain from volunteering? What is the youngest age for children to volunteer?  This interactive Points of View is designed to engage readers and get at the heart of this very important volunteer topic.

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Generating Corporate Brand Value through Nonprofit Organizations and Employee-Volunteer Programs

The nonprofit sector has long been the domain of organizations and individuals interested in philanthropic activities and charitable work.  However, this is changing, as Corporate America discovers that nonprofits and employee-volunteering programs can be legitimate and useful business tools to promote their brand value.

The latest trend for companies is to create corporate nonprofit foundations and employee-volunteer programs to demonstrate corporate social responsibility (CSR).  Although having noble missions, the real intention of these corporate nonprofit foundations and inspired employee-volunteer efforts is to enhance brand value, increase overall company profitability, grow customer loyalty, and reflect company values in tangible ways. 

Two for-profit corporations, Bank of America and Toyota, are both enhancing their brand name through their respective nonprofit foundations and employee-volunteer programs, each of which helps Bank of America and Toyota to build stronger relations with their communities and stakeholders.

In this article, Kevin Kalra, himself a 2004 Toyota “Community Scholar,” explores what “brand value” is and how CSR furthers it.

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Attracting Volunteers from the Private Sector

This edition of Research-to-Practice looks at three reports that examine corporate employee volunteering. Employee volunteering is an area of considerable growth and of great interest, but how can volunteer-involving organisations and volunteers managers make the most of relations with business? The three reports reviewed here are a survey of employee volunteering from national research in the UK, a study of corporate responsibility and volunteering in 7 countries, and a research project to evaluate the employee volunteering scheme of one bank in the UK.

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