Difference between Volunteering and Internship

Difference between Volunteering and Internship

The difference between volunteering and internship enables a deeper understanding of charity and work. Volunteering and internship are great ways to gain valuable experience, positively impact your community, and boost your resume.

However, there is some difference between volunteering and internship, which makes it essential to understand before deciding.

In this article, we will take a closer look at volunteering vs internship and explore the pros and cons of each so that you can determine which is the best option for you.

Difference between Volunteering and Internship (Volunteering vs Internship)

What is Volunteering?

Volunteering is a selfless act in which an individual gives their time and skills to help a cause, organisation, or community without receiving compensation in the form of a stipend.

It is usually done on a part-time or occasional basis and is not a formal arrangement between the volunteer and the organization.

Pros of Volunteering

  • Flexibility: One of the biggest advantages of volunteering is its flexibility. You can typically volunteer at any time that works for you, and there is no minimum or maximum number of hours you must commit to. This makes volunteering an excellent option for those with other obligations or simply looking to give back to their community.
  • Networking Opportunities: Volunteering can provide an opportunity to meet new people and expand your network. You may meet people who are interested in the same causes as you or have similar interests, which can be a great way to make new friends and professional connections.
  • Personal Growth: Volunteering can be a great way to develop new skills, gain new experiences, and grow. For example, you might be able to work on a team, communicate with others, and develop leadership skills.

Cons of Volunteering

  • No Formal Recognition: Although volunteering is a great way to gain valuable experience and make a positive impact, it is not formally recognized as such. This means that volunteering may not be as beneficial for your resume as an internship or a job, and it may not count as credit towards a degree program or certification.
  • No Guaranteed Benefits: Because volunteering is not a formal arrangement, there are no guarantees about the type of work you will be doing, the number of hours you will be required to work, or the recognition you will receive for your contributions.

What is an Internship?

An internship is a structured work experience that provides students, recent graduates, or other individuals with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in their field of interest.

Internships are usually full-time or part-time positions that last for a set period of time, such as summer, semester, or year.

Interns may be paid or unpaid, typically involving a formal agreement between the intern and the organization.

Difference between Volunteering and Internship

Pros of Internships

  • Formal Recognition: Internships are formal arrangements between the intern and the organization, which means they are recognized as such on a resume or application. This can be a great way to demonstrate your commitment to your field and may also count as credit towards a degree program or certification.
  • Hands-On Experience: Internships provide hands-on experience in your field of interest, which is invaluable for those who are just starting or looking to switch careers. You will have the opportunity to work on real projects, interact with professionals in your field, and develop the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in your chosen career.
  • Potential for Full-Time Employment: Some internships may lead to full-time employment with the organization, which can be a great way to start your career or move up the ladder. Even if an internship does not result in a job offer, it can still be a great way to gain work experience.

Cons of Internships

  • Unpaid Internships: Some internships are unpaid, making them inaccessible for individuals who cannot afford to work without compensation. This can be incredibly challenging for students or recent graduates struggling with student loan debt.
  • Limited Availability: Limited availability for internships in certain fields or industries may make securing an internship in your desired area of interest difficult. Additionally, internships may be competitive, and you may need to compete with other candidates for a limited number of positions.
  • Lack of Flexibility: Unlike volunteering, internships typically require a set amount of time and commitment. This can make it difficult for individuals with other obligations, such as work, school, or family responsibilities.
  • Lack of Autonomy: Interns usually work under the supervision of experienced professionals, which can limit their ability to take the initiative and work independently. This can be challenging for individuals who prefer more control over their work.
  • No Guaranteed Outcome: Although internships can be a great way to gain experience and build your network, they do not guarantee a job offer or a specific outcome. This means you may not get the recognition or compensation you were hoping for, even if you have worked hard and performed well as an intern.

Volunteering vs Internship

DefinitionSelfless act of giving time and skills to help a cause, organization or community without receiving compensationStructured work experience that provides individuals with hands-on experience in their field of interest
Time CommitmentFlexible, no minimum or maximum hours requiredUsually full-time or part-time, set period of time such as a summer, semester, or year
CompensationNo compensation or stipendMay be paid or unpaid
Formal ArrangementNo formal agreement between the volunteer and the organizationFormal agreement between the intern and the organization
RecognitionNot formally recognized, may not be as beneficial for a resume or applicationFormal recognition, may count as credit towards a degree program or certification
ExperienceGives opportunity to meet new people, develop new skills and grow as a personHands-on experience in chosen field, interaction with professionals and development of skills and knowledge
Potential for Full-Time EmploymentNo guarantee of full-time employmentSome internships may lead to full-time employment with the organization
Difference between Volunteering and Internship (Volunteering vs Internship)

Can volunteering and internships be used as credits towards a degree or certification program?

Volunteering and internships can sometimes count towards a degree or certification program, depending on the specific program requirements and the organization providing the volunteer or internship opportunity.

Volunteering or interning with specific organizations can earn students credit or recognition at some academic institutions, while other requirements include service hours or work experience for degree completion.

Additionally, certain professional certification programs like internships may require or offer credit for relevant work experience.

To determine if volunteering or internships count towards your degree or certification requirements, it is essential to contact your institution or certification program.

Is there a minimum or maximum time commitment for volunteering and internships?

Volunteering and internships may require a minimum or maximum time commitment. The exact requirements depend on the organization offering the opportunity and the nature of the work involved.

You may only be able to commit a few hours per week to some volunteering opportunities, while others may require more.

The duration of internships may vary from a few weeks to several months and from part-time to full-time.

Understanding the time commitment required before committing to a volunteering or internship opportunity is important to ensure that it aligns with your schedule and other obligations.

Are there any age requirements for volunteering or internships?

Depending on the organization and the work involved, volunteering and internships may have different age requirements. Depending on the organization, volunteers or interns may have to be at least 18, while others may accept younger individuals with parental or guardian consent.

There may be age restrictions for certain activities, such as working with heavy equipment, hazardous materials, and internships for safety reasons. Minors may also have to comply with certain legal requirements.

How do volunteering and internships differ in terms of supervision?

Internships and volunteering differ in terms of supervision. Typically, volunteers work more independently and with less structured supervision. A volunteer coordinator or team leader may provide guidance and support, but they may not have a dedicated supervisor to oversee their work.

It is common for internships to be more structured and to have a supervisor or mentor who provides guidance, feedback, and support throughout the program.

Generally, internships provide more structured supervision and guidance than volunteering opportunities because the supervisor may set goals, monitor progress, and provide professional development opportunities.

Can I receive recommendations or references from volunteering or internships?

Receiving recommendations or references from volunteering or internship experiences is common. These references can be valuable for future job or educational opportunities, as they can provide insight into your skills, work ethic, and character.

Many organizations offering volunteering or internship opportunities are happy to provide references or recommendations upon request.

Maintaining a positive and professional attitude throughout your volunteering or internship experience is important, as this can impact the quality of the reference or recommendation you receive.

Additionally, it can be helpful to stay in touch with your supervisor or mentor after the experience has ended, as they may be able to provide ongoing support and guidance and serve as a reference or recommendation in the future.

Be sure to ask for permission before listing someone as a reference, and provide them with any relevant information they may need to write an effective recommendation.

Conclusion: Volunteering vs Internship

Volunteering and internships can provide valuable personal and professional growth opportunities. However, the key differences between the two options lie in structure, recognition, compensation, and outcome.

Volunteering is a more flexible option that requires no formal agreement and provides no compensation. At the same time, internships are structured work experiences that may lead to recognition, compensation, and full-time employment.

Choosing between volunteering and internships will ultimately depend on your goals, priorities, and circumstances. If you want hands-on experience in your field, build your network and potentially secure full-time employment, an internship may be the right choice.

On the other hand, volunteering may be the best option to give back to your community and make a difference.

Regardless of your path, volunteering and internships can provide valuable opportunities for personal and professional growth and help you develop new skills, meet new people, and positively impact your community.


  1. Eileen M. O’Brien, ACE Research Briefs, “Outside the Classroom: Students as Employees, Volunteers, and Interns“.
  2. International volunteer HQ, “The Ultimate Guide to doing an Internship vs Volunteering Abroad“.
  3. Intuit Quickbooks, “Federal laws on hiring and paying interns“.

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