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Unpaid Internships – Doing it Right

_DSC0142Unpaid internships have become a hot topic recently. In the United States, unpaid interns are suing big companies that have offered subpar opportunities with little educational or experiential value. In Canada, students and politicians are pushing for clearer legal standards for unpaid internships to avoid similarly exploitative experiences.

So where does the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) fit into this debate? SCiP, a program offered by Volunteer Alberta in partnership with the Government of Alberta, connects nonprofit/voluntary organizations with post-secondary students across the province. While interns participating in SCiP do receive a $1000 bursary from the Government of Alberta after completing their SCiP internship, the positions themselves are unpaid.

The bursary is the first thing that sets SCiP apart from other internship programs. Critics of unpaid internships have argued that they offer an unfair advantage to students who can afford to take time away from work or school and are inaccessible to students who need to maintain an income. By offering interns $1000 for completing an internship, SCiP provides enabling dollars that allow students to take time for this learning opportunity. As well, all SCiP internships are part-time and designed to be flexible around school and work commitments.

SCiP internships are also vetted by our staff to ensure we only offer meaningful, skill-based opportunities. Past internships have included designing websites, building a bicycle fleet, facilitating workshops, creating new logos, and coordinating volunteers. We do not approve internships comprised solely of licking envelopes, photocopying, or filing. Not only do interns benefit from these guidelines, but nonprofits also enjoy the outcomes of these high level projects and the real impact they have on their missions in the province. The mutual benefit of SCiP extends past the immediate internships. Interns gain valuable experience that they can add to their resumes and draw on as they move forward with their studies and with their careers. Nonprofit/voluntary organizations gain human capacity as well as an opportunity to demonstrate to the future of nonprofit leadership how rewarding working and volunteering in the sector is.

Aside from the focus on accessibility and shared value, perhaps the biggest difference between SCiP internships and the unpaid internships currently garnering media attention is that SCiP internships are only offered to Alberta nonprofits helping Albertans. There are no shareholders making money off of SCiP interns’ work; instead, the interns are building and supporting their own communities. Furthermore, many of the nonprofits offering SCiP internships are directly involved in addressing issues like poverty, unemployment, exploitation and adult education – the very issues that those concerned with unpaid internships are also looking to tackle.

SCiP has just completed a very successful second year with over 700 internships filled in over 35 communities across the province since September 2012. The third year of SCiP begins on August 1st, 2013. For more information, or to sign up for the program, please visit www.joinscip.ca.

Sam Kriviak, Program Coordinator

Alberta’s Community Spirit Endures Flood

saddledomeAlberta has always been a community of volunteers, whether that is formally or informally. The last 10 days have been no different.  The devastating floods in Southern Alberta have caused an outpouring of support and help; the Volunteer Alberta office even got a few inquiries from people wanting to volunteer.

I wanted to share one particular story that helps put to rest the famous Edmonton-Calgary rivalry, which has all but dissipated since the flood. Well, at least until hockey starts again.

The day the flood began marked the beginning of the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, a weekend long independent festival hosted by various venues in downtown Calgary. Within hours of the festival being officially cancelled, organizers in Edmonton stepped up to host bands and would-be festival attendees in a new event called Shred Island.  A one night event turned into a weekend long festival featuring 30 bands and hundreds of attendees all thanks to donated venues, food, alcohol and time.

Video: Sled Island Documentary Trailer

While this event didn’t ease the difficulty of those directly affected by the floods, displaced ticket holder passes were honoured at the Edmonton venues. It gave the bands that travelled across Canada to attend Sled Island the opportunity to still play a show and generate some revenue and provided a morale boost and a moment of normalcy for attendees.

For information on how you can help those affected by the flooding in Southern Alberta, visit the Government of Alberta’s flood website.


Lisa Michetti, Member Engagement Manager

Three Lessons of Vulnerability

brenebrownMore and more the nonprofit/voluntary sector, for a variety of reasons, is looking towards collaborative models as the dominant context for achieving missions and visions. Given this “collaborative buzz”, it would be naive of us to think that because we are in the business of citizen engagement and positive community change that we will get all collaborations right. Brene Brown’s popular TED talks “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to Shame” speak very well to the nonprofit sector and how their lessons can help lay the groundwork for strong, impactful collaborations.

Three Lessons of Vulnerability:

1)      Vulnerability has two sides

On the negative side, vulnerability allows us to blame others and ourselves when things are uncomfortable. It helps us believe that things are never going to work out and the work we do will never make a difference. On the positive side being open and vulnerable is the pathway “to joy, creativity, belonging, and connection.” If we can, as a sector, walk into our collaborations open to where they may go then they might be more creative, bold, and impactful.

2)      Vulnerability has to be embraced

As Dr. Brown points out “connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives” and this rings true for the nonprofit sector. We are invested in connections. Nonprofit organizations work at fixing broken connections/relationships, improving connections and starting new connections. So, in the nonprofit sector, if we are in the business of connections and we are compelled to collaborate for sustainability and impact, then we must embrace vulnerability. When embraced, when viewed as not good or bad but necessary, being vulnerable is at the root of meaningful connections. In other words “in order to allow connection to happen we have to allow ourselves to be really seen”.

3)      Vulnerability is not weakness

Although many of us look at our own vulnerability as a display of weakness we also look at others being vulnerable as courageous and powerful.  As Dr. Brown says “vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation, and change”. Positive vulnerability demonstrates to others around that table that your organizations is open to possibility and can be an authentic partner.

The main reason the sector is looking to collaboration as the new model of business is to be more innovative, more creative and affect positive change. We are more likely to achieve these desired outcomes if we accept that putting ourselves, and organizations, out there is the only way to move forward. The next time you are asked to collaborate, consider choosing to be vulnerable, embrace it and see it as a strength to bring to the table and an opportunity to inspire others to do the same.


Annand Ollivierre, Program Manager

Work in Progress

grad hatsI’m two weeks away from completing my degree in Human Ecology at the University of Alberta. Although I’m not new to the workforce, my options are expanding and instead of searching for jobs, I’m now seeking a career. In this quest, I’m looking to marry the two important factors in my perfect career. The first is doing work I find meaningful and that uses the knowledge and skills I’ve gained in my education. The second, making enough to pay off my mountain of student loans (which feels more like Everest) in a reasonable amount of time, while having a few dollars left over. I enter the debate of working in the nonprofit sector or profit sector. There are so many great opportunities in the nonprofit sector; jobs that offer meaningful work. I could really make a difference in people’s lives. I’d get a chance to use my education, be creative and strategize to solve real life problems. Not to mention benefit from the great networking that takes place.

With all the great things the sector has to offer I’m still left questioning whether it’s the right path for me. What’s holding me back is the aforementioned mountain. I wonder if working in this sector will allow me to pay off my loans and still afford me the ability to buy a house and start a family. This led me on a mission to find the truth about compensation in the nonprofit sector. Let me tell you, it was very difficult to find information about comparable wages in the nonprofit sector. For example, job postings, especially those for entry-level positions, were very vague when it came to wage information. Most didn’t give an expected salary range, while others said things like; “wages are negotiable” or asked the applicant to “state an expected wage”.  However, once I dug deep enough, from what I could find the news is not all bad. The nonprofit sector like all other sectors offers career advancement, benefit packages (health/dental, vacation, professional development, etc) and entry-level wages/salaries that are, for the most part, acceptable. However there are still challenges because not all nonprofit organizations are large with organizational charts that offer room to grow. Also, with the increasing rates in which people switch jobs now (every 2-5 years by some estimates), most higher paying positions required years of seniority that will be less and less common.

These challenges need to be understood by organizations, donors, and funders and they all need to modernize approaches to hiring up and coming talent. Also, if perception doesn’t equal reality, then the story needs to be told better. Make information readily available and don’t be afraid to let people know what you are going to pay them. University students are often accused of being idealistic but we also have realistic expectations around salary and compensation. As a soon-to-be university graduate, what I can expect to earn in an entry level position is important to me. It factors into what jobs I apply for and the sectors I look to for employment. Clear, accurate, and easily accessible information is a good way to catch my attention and help me make an informed decision. As I mentioned, the nonprofit sector has a lot of meaningful work to offer. If nonprofits want to bring in bright and shiny new graduates they need to show them that wages are comparable to other industries, only then will they attract the next generation of leaders.

Gloria Lawrence, U of A Practicum Student

Gloria is a Practicum student with the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Alberta. She has demonstrated a great understanding of the nonprofit/voluntary sector in her time here at Volunteer Alberta. 

Successful Online Communications Means Thinking Like a Person, Not a Business

online communicationA successful nonprofit organization in today’s competitive economy must conduct itself in a very businesslike manner if it is to meet its mission, balance their budget, and stay solvent. However, Amy Sample Ward co-author of Social Change Anytime Everywhere, suggests that in order to succeed in the increasingly high tech nonprofit/voluntary sector, organizations need to adopt an online multi-channel strategy (i.e. email, website and social media) for their advocacy, fundraising, and community building.

In a blog post on the Stanford Social Innovation Review website, Sample Ward suggests that in order to effectively use this multi-channel strategy, organizations must act like people rather than businesses. This involves an understanding that those you are attempting to engage online via social media, email or your website are making decisions quickly. People are interacting with your nonprofit in small intervals, seconds not minutes, so that needs to be taken into account when devising your online multi-channel strategy.

People are busy and they move quickly when consuming information online. You don’t have much time to make an impression or sell your vision to those you are attempting to engage. This means your message, image, infographic, video, survey, newsletter, website or email needs to be appealing and easily digestible to those you are attempting to reach.

For instance, Person-X (let’s call her Mary) checks her Facebook and sees that her friend has posted a link for a summer camp. Mary has been looking for a summer camp for her 10 year-old son, she clicks on the link and expects to be led to a website that will tell her where it is, what kind of activities are included and how much the camp costs. If the summer camp communications team were thinking like a business it might have the “where”, the “what” and the “how much” divided onto different pages, with not much on the main page. But Mary wants all of that key information immediately. If the summer camp is thinking like a business, it may want Mary to click on each page of their website. But, the summer camp is more likely to win Mary over if they think like a person and satisfy her curiosity before she moves on to the next thing. If it takes too much time to process the information or message people will move on to something else.  In this scenario, organizations need to think like a person not like a business.

Social Change Anytime Everywhere by Allyson Kapin and Amy Sample Ward is available through the Volunteer Alberta Resource Centre (VARC).

Tim Henderson, Office and Communications Coordinator

Not-for-profit Web Consulting & Digital Marketing by Adster Creative