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Volunteering vs. Internship — What's the Difference?

By Maham Liaqat & Fiza Rafique — Published on March 7, 2024
Volunteering involves donating time to support a cause without financial compensation, for community service and personal fulfillment. Internships are structured programs offering practical experience in a professional field, with some form compensation.
Volunteering vs. Internship — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Volunteering and Internship


Key Differences

Volunteering and internships are valuable experiences, each serving different purposes and offering unique benefits.
Volunteering is primarily altruistic, allowing individuals to contribute to their community or a cause they care about without expecting financial rewards. It's flexible in nature, accommodating various schedules and commitments, and provides personal satisfaction and growth through helping others. Volunteers can work with nonprofits, community organizations, or public-sector entities, gaining skills and experiences that enrich their personal and professional lives.
Internships, on the other hand, are more career-oriented and structured, designed to provide hands-on experience in a specific field or industry. Interns may receive a stipend, salary, or academic credit, making internships particularly appealing to students and recent graduates looking to enter the workforce. Through internships, individuals gain valuable industry knowledge, professional skills, and networking opportunities, often with the goal of enhancing their employability or transitioning into a full-time position.
The choice between volunteering and an internship depends on an individual's goals, whether they're looking to give back and gain personal satisfaction from volunteering or to develop specific professional skills and experience through an internship. Both paths offer valuable experiences that can complement each other, enriching an individual's personal development and professional trajectory.

Comparison Chart


Altruistic, community service
Career development, skill acquisition


Stipend, salary, or academic credit


Flexible, can be informal
Structured, often part of an educational program


Personal fulfillment, community impact
Professional experience, industry insight

Typical Duration

Variable, can be short-term or ongoing
Fixed term, usually aligned with academic semesters

Compare with Definitions


Offering time and skills to support a cause without financial compensation.
She spent her weekends volunteering at the local animal shelter.


A structured program offering practical experience in a professional field.
She secured a summer internship at a marketing firm to gain industry experience.


Focused on community service and personal growth.
Volunteering at the food bank provided him with a sense of purpose and community connection.


Aims to enhance employability and professional skills.
The internship program included workshops on professional development and networking.


Offers flexibility in terms of commitment and roles.
He volunteered as a tutor, working around his university schedule.


Often includes compensation or academic credit.
His internship provided a small stipend and college credits.


Provides opportunities for learning and skill development.
Volunteering at the hospital allowed her to gain valuable patient care experience.


Typically has a fixed duration, aligning with academic semesters or summer breaks.
He completed a six-month internship as part of his degree requirement.


Can involve a wide range of activities and sectors.
They organized a volunteering event to clean up the city park.


May lead to future employment opportunities within the organization.
After her internship, she was offered a full-time position at the company.


A person who performs or offers to perform a service voluntarily
An information booth staffed by volunteers.
Hospital volunteers.


A student or a recent graduate undergoing supervised practical training.


Being, consisting of, or done by volunteers
Volunteer firefighters.
Volunteer tutoring.


One who is interned; an internee.


(Informal) To compel (someone) to do something
We were volunteered to do the dishes.


A job taken by a student in order to learn a profession or trade.


To perform or offer to perform a service of one's own free will.


The state of being an intern; the position of an intern.


To do charitable or helpful work without pay
Many retirees volunteer in community service and day care centers.


The period of time during which a novice in a field serves in a subordinate capacity and continues to gain experience; the learning period before one becomes an expert.


The act of voluntarily giving time and labor for charity or community service.


Present participle of volunteer

Common Curiosities

Should I volunteer or intern if I want to work in the nonprofit sector?

Both volunteering and internships can be valuable, with volunteering providing direct community service experience and internships offering structured professional development in the nonprofit field.

Can volunteering lead to a job?

While volunteering is not typically pursued for job placement, the skills, experiences, and networking opportunities it provides can indirectly enhance job prospects.

Can volunteering replace professional experience on a resume?

While volunteering is not a direct replacement for professional experience, it can complement a resume by showcasing transferable skills, initiative, and community involvement.

How long do internships usually last?

Internships typically last for a fixed term, ranging from a few weeks to several months, often aligning with academic semesters or summer breaks.

Can I do an internship in a field different from my major?

Yes, internships in fields different from one’s major can provide valuable cross-disciplinary skills and insights, though some may require specific skill sets or knowledge.

Are internships only for students?

While many internships are designed for students, there are also opportunities for recent graduates and individuals looking to change careers or gain experience in a new field.

Is an internship always paid?

Not always. Internship compensation varies by industry, company, and location, with some offering stipends, salaries, or academic credit, while others may be unpaid.

How can I find volunteering opportunities?

Volunteering opportunities can be found through community organizations, nonprofit websites, volunteering platforms, and social media groups dedicated to community service.

Is it possible to intern abroad?

Yes, there are many programs offering international internships, providing the chance to gain professional experience while experiencing a new culture.

How do I choose between volunteering and an internship?

Consider your goals: if you're seeking to give back and gain personal satisfaction, volunteering may be the right choice; if you're looking to develop specific professional skills and experience, an internship might be more appropriate.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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