It's the season of interns, and with it the debasing hazing rituals (Cardus' is doing the President's expense reports). Those undergrads who haven't retreated to dignified manual labour to pay tuition bills for the summer, are working to pad their résumé and bolster their experience with now-legion internship opportunities. They are the underpaid, oft-unacknowledged "sweat and tears" that project managers euphemistically celebrate when the contract is won and the interns are back hitting the books.
Fortune magazine reports that working for free is the new normal. But probably not so new for anyone in the charitable sector. Faith-based organizations, in particular, were at the front of this trend: using missiological language to mask underlying material shortfall. The experience—or the vision, or, whatever—is deemed to be worth it. Roger Hodge writing for Book Forum says, "Only those who can work for free need apply." Nonprofit interning is for the rich. Addendum: religious nonprofit interning is for the piously rich.
Of course, interning does have enormous educational and network value. This is how Vogue magazine can justify auctioning off internships for as much as $42,500. But the point that should resonate with labour activists is the cultivation of a footloose underclass of professionals, often working under suspiciously minimal regulation and for vague benefit.
Interns, writes Hodge, "now join artists, writers, adjunct professors, substitute teachers, musicians, immigrants, bloggers and other marginalized inhabitants of a subordinate, involuntary gift economy whose work allegedly deserves little or no monetary compensation."
With the push for prestigious non-profit internships never stronger among my students, the benefits of those programs is constantly on my mind. I took a very valuable and generously structured internship with the old Work Research Foundation (now Cardus) in 2005. My students are not always so lucky.
Christian organizations should be at the forefront of generously gifting the next generation with skills, contacts, and trust. Could consistent, generous internships be one of the key marks of integrity for the faith-based non-profit?