Why Associations Should Have Interns—and Pay Them

Many interns around the country—and right here in Washington, DC—are working for “the experience” rather than paychecks. Here’s a case for having association interns and compensating them for their work.

About a decade ago, I was having the time of my life as an intern at an interior design magazine in London.

I spent my days calling up PR folks and enquiring about press samples, running all over Oxford High Street picking up everything from fabric swatches to pillows, writing stories, drinking tea, and chatting with my editors. I was working.

But instead of getting paid to work, I was actually paying to work. Paying a lot actually. I spent literally all of the money that I’d saved while waiting tables at college—along with some generous contributions from my family (thanks, grandma!)—to study abroad and intern at a magazine.

The unpaid internship isn’t a new phenomenon. Back in 2014, after a class-action suit was filed, magazine titan Condé Nast ended its unpaid internship program and agreed to pay $5.8 million to about 7,500 interns who worked for publications like Vogue and The New Yorker, from 2007 to 2014.

But according to a recent Washington Post article, there is still a large contingent of unpaid interns—and that’s a reality that the newly formed nonpartisan group Pay Our Interns is hoping to change by advocating for paid internships in the private and public sector for millennials.

“There are two common ways of thinking about Washington internships,” writes the Washington Post’s Elise Viebeck. “One, as a rite of passage for ambitious young people. And two, as singular opportunities available only to candidates whose parents are wealthy enough to foot the bill.”

What does this all mean for associations both inside and outside the Beltway? It’s a topic that has come up for years on ASAE’s Collaborate forum (ASAE member login required). So when I asked one of those discussion participants—Richard Yep, FASAE, CAE, CEO of the American Counseling Association—whether associations should offer internships, he said “by all means.”

“Associations are in many ways about giving back,” Yep said. “If they’re a membership association, people join because they want to give back to their profession.”

In the same way, Yep said associations should be giving back to people who are going to be involved in associations or leading associations into the future. Yep said that offering meaningful internships to people with all backgrounds, bearing in mind D&I principles, is one way to give back. But Yep said that it’s essential for the association to provide a valuable, educational experience for its interns.

“It’s important for the association to sit down with the intern and ask, ‘What do you want to get out of this?’” Yep said. “It’s a regular job interview. Just because they may not be paid as much or have as much experience, we still need to treat it in a professional way.”

When asked about whether associations should compensate their interns, Yep said they absolutely should.

“We can do other things,” Yep said. “We can take them to lunch. We can write them a good letter of recommendation—those things that we should be doing anyway. But I think that if they’re doing work—work that we would’ve paid someone to do—we should be paying them.”

What are your thoughts on interns and internships at associations? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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