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internship vs volunteering

Internship vs Volunteering: What is the difference?

Internships are about career growth and work experience

In wildlife conservation, it is often not easy to understand the difference between being a volunteer and an intern. Especially since most conservation internships are not paid but on a volunteer basis. That’s because many green NGOs simply cannot afford to pay their interns. Their staff is often passionate but probably not well-paid compared to the private sector. Moreover, a lot of their charitable work depends on volunteer help. So here is an explanation of the main points of difference.

1. The intern is the main beneficiary

With an internship, the student volunteer is the main beneficiary. The student benefits from the skills and experience gained to transition from study to work. Nowadays, it is a popular way to boost employability and open up job opportunities.

On the other hand, volunteering has been around since ancient times, when people would donate their time and skills to help others in need. Today, volunteering is an important part of many people’s lives, whether they choose to give back to their community or a favourite cause.

2. The focus is on learning and work experience

In terms of internship vs volunteering, the aim of the intern is to gain practical skills in a chosen job or sector such as conservation or sustainability. Certainly, the intern is also motivated by helping the organisation. But unlike volunteers, this is not the main focus. Normally, volunteers are focused solely on worthwhile service to benefit others. Of course, practically, a volunteer can benefit from this activity which enriches their life and provides fulfillment.

3. The purpose is career growth

The goal of an intern is almost always to develop their career by acquiring professional skills and work experience. Additionally, it’s also a great way to build a network. Last but not least, there is the chance of finding a job. Although there is rarely a guaranteed job upon completion of the internship, it will certainly enhance your applications and provide insights for your preferred career path.

To a certain extent, you can enjoy some of these advantages as a volunteer: getting practical knowledge and understanding non-profit work. But volunteering work is mostly controlled by the NGO and limited to specific activities. Again, when comparing an internship vs volunteering, the latter does not offer the same scope and depth as a career internship.

4. There is a link to training or an educational program

environmental educationIt is common for internships to be part of a formal study program such as a college or university degree. In that case, the work by the intern is linked to the requirements of their educational program and may have some specific learning goals or deliverables such as a report. Furthermore, the intern may have a mentor to support and guide them. At Malaysian Wildlife, interns often have the chance to learn first-hand from highly experienced professionals in their field of study.

Equally, volunteers may undertake academic studies inspired by their volunteering activities but there is no formal link or integration.

5. Our interns stay longer and get more involved

It is logical, given all the reasons above, that our internships last longer than a 1 or 2-week volunteering visit. The norm for our internships is at least 4 weeks. Although many volunteer interns stay longer. It is not unusual for some to be particularly inspired by the work and decide to stay for 6 months or more. These individuals often move on to manage conservation projects in Asia and beyond. Such internships are a true stepping stone to a long-term conservation career.

Are you considering an internship vs volunteering?

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In her non-profit company Biodiversity Business, Barbara combines her lifelong experience in marketing communications with her passion for animals. Her mission is #Communication4Conservation: saving endangered species and their habitats.

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