In a LinkedIn conversation about the abuse of unpaid interns, Dr. Angela Dye (the Interim Executive Director for the Empowerment Network) had this to say…
I am a strong supporter of both paid and unpaid internships as I believe they each offer a special function in the life of the developing practitioner. The key word is “developing”. When an individual needs more experience, needs more exposure, or needs more references, an internship (paid or unpaid) has incredible value. And, in the world of activism and advocacy, the unpaid nature of volunteering is priceless as one does not have to compromise principle for paycheck (which is often the case when one is placed in an employee-status and put on payroll).
Now, in terms of an established practitioner (which I still believe can find value in volunteering), whether or not one works for free is based on his or her self-worth, his or her purpose, and his or her principles. It is an issue of the individual…not necessarily an issue of the industry. And, it is not simply about what talents one brings to the table. It is also about what resources. Employers pay for value and in the nonprofit world, they need more than just “talent”.
I don’t say this to be snarky or insensitive. I say it to empower those out there seeking “employment” to get real, get a strategy, and think about how to increase one’s competitive edge. As a seasoned and proven practitioner in my field, I still volunteer…and I also rely on other volunteers to join me in my efforts. Volunteerism, as both the volunteer and the volunteer director, serves as the catalyst to my purpose as an urban educator as I have found very few organizations with a payrolled position that will allow me to effect the type of educational change that marginalized communities really need.
Before going, I would like to say that I get it. I understand passion and purpose… lol, and I also understand the purpose of a paycheck! Here are final thoughts for encouragement and empowerment:
1. Start your own nonprofit. There is so much power and purpose in fueling your own dreams.
2. Develop grant writing skills so you can bring both talent and resources to an organization.
3. Rethink your approach to job searching. Instead of applying for jobs, go out and network. With the right connection, someone may be willing to create a job just for you. I know, this has happened to me several times as a volunteer and as an employer of paid positions. With the right fit, miracles begin to happen.
Best wishes to all trying to walk through this narrow-hallway of passion and purpose. Not easy, but don’t compromise your talents nor your vision!