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To Pay or Not to Pay: Considering compensation for your interns

Interns can be a great asset to your organization. They can help boost your productivity and contribute fresh ideas, but a major consideration is compensation. There’s always been debate as to whether or not interns should be paid or if the experience they gain on the job is enough. Whether your organization has millions of dollars at its disposal or has a very limited budget, there are plenty of ways, both financial and beyond, to make sure an intern gets the most out of their time with you.

What the Law Says

Earlier this year, the United States Department of Labor issued the new “Primary Beneficiary Test” to help employers determine whether or not unpaid interns should be classified as employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act. NonprofitHR recently released an outline of factors to consider when deciding whether or not to compensate interns.

The new test should provide more flexibility for employers. It takes into account the non-monetary benefits the internship may provide to the intern and could possibly increase the number of unpaid internships once again. However, employers should not disregard the rules altogether, as the litmus test for unpaid interns is still consequential.

The Case for Paying Your Interns

If your organization has the means to pay interns, it is definitely worth considering. Paying your interns can lead to bringing in folks who can dedicate more time to your organization. In The Muse’s article “Should you pay your interns?they make the argument that most students in this day and age need part time jobs to stay afloat, so offering them the opportunity to learn from your organization and still receive a paycheck means that they’ll be able to put more focus into making the most of their time at your organization.

[B]y paying them, you’ll gain interns with greater flexibility because you won’t be limited to students who can only work a sparse five hours per week in between their paid part-time jobs. That means: They’ll have more time to work for you—and that’s why you hired them in the first place.

What to do if You Can’t Pay

Of course budget is always a concern, especially in the world of nonprofits, so it’s understandable if your organization doesn’t have the financial capacity to compensate interns. In the same Muse article noted above, they recommend clearly outlining what skills a potential candidate can hope to gain to ensure great interns aren’t deterred by the lack of pay.

If you can’t give them a paycheck, clearly communicate to your interns how they’ll benefit (e.g., at the completion of the internship, they’ll be social media masters, experts in Excel pivot tables, or they’ll have made new and exciting connections). Then, make sure that happens. The relationship needs to be mutually beneficial, and you want your interns to leave proud of their work and equipped to move into the (paying) workforce.

Moreover, as a supervisor, whether your intern gets paid or not, it’s your job to mentor them and make sure they’re getting the most out of their experience. In Idealist Careers’ article “Supervising an Intern? Give as Much as You Askauthor Alice Pettway urges supervisors to go above and beyond just handing off mundane tasks they’d rather not be doing.

If you’re lucky enough to have intern support, it may be tempting to breathe a sigh of relief while handing off important administrative tasks or wish-list items that you haven’t quite gotten around to, and quickly jump back into whatever project you were working on. But it’s important to remember that an intern is in your office to learn, and if you take the time to fill the role of mentor and teacher, you’ll find that you get a lot more out of the arrangement.

Deciding whether or not to pay your interns can be a tricky business. At the end of the day, whether or not you pay your interns, you should provide them with the skills and experience they can take with them as they pursue their careers.

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