Just Not Cricket: Why the voluntary sector should pay interns

This cricket analogy will hopefully strike a chord with people, but do bear with me on it. It should show that legal compliance simply isn’t enough to help young people to get a foothold into the sector. For more information on why the voluntary sector should pay their interns, please check out our 'Learn More' page by clicking here.

I have been a cricket fan since I was about 12 years old. I remember my close friend at school was really good at it, and it got me relatively hooked. If you’ve never wanted to watch a game of cricket, I can understand you never wanting to. It is a slow game with many rules, each more complex and ambiguous than the last.

As a football fan for years before, one thing always struck me as odd about cricket. When I started playing, I read all the rules in detail and prepared myself to do everything I could to win. First game I ever played, I decided that I would bark psychological and tactical advice to my opponents, trying to make them uncomfortable, doing all I could to win. After all, there was nothing to say that I couldn’t do that in the rules. I saw it as a necessity to my aim of winning. No-one seemed overly impressed but there was a more important issue going on for me; winning the game. After that match, my friend pulled me to one side in the dressing room to review my performance.

“I’m sorry, Chris” he said, “I’m not sure we can play you again.” I was stunned, I’d given it everything to win for the team within the rules. I asked why. “It isn’t in the spirit of cricket to act like that.”

As I grew more accustomed to the game, I realised that my focus on winning within the rules missed out a vital component that underpinned the sport; respect and fairness. It is a game that prides itself on never being a race to the cheapest or easiest win. You could never mistake this for a lack of ambition or focus though – I’ve seen grown adults in tears after cricket matches that haven’t worked out. But the sport would disintegrate into farce if that ‘spirit’ was lost.

So what is my point? The voluntary sector is much like cricket. There are rules on unpaid internships already – as ‘voluntary workers’ in the National Minimum Wage Act a charity can hire unpaid workers of almost any type it needs. However, it is not in the spirit of the sector to try to prop up the work of a charity with young people that are unpaid, excluding many brilliant and talented people who cannot afford to work for free.

Now I’m not talking about my Mum volunteering at her local charity shop on a Saturday afternoon (volunteering), and I’m not talking about my sister offering to help fundraise at a local fete for a charity (volunteering) or even about my friends doing some pro-bono design work for a local hospice (yep, volunteering). I’m talking about where charities are advertising ‘opportunities’ to people to get a foot on the career ladder in the sector, expecting a certain number of hours a week in set locations, with tasks and responsibilities of their own. You know, a job.

I believe this damages the ‘spirit’ of the voluntary sector, as genuine volunteering is muddied and undermined by calling a Monday to Friday, 9-5 job in an office ‘volunteering’. I’m a regular volunteer, in fact I’m off to volunteer for two weeks at my old school through the first couple of weeks in July. But by organisations dressing up ‘real work’ with such a positive and vital word for the sector, we are breaking the trust that people have in it.

I’m sure there are some that will still say “well we are legally compliant, this isn’t in ‘the rules’.” But to most people, it is sure as anything a part of the spirit.  

For more information on why the voluntary sector should pay their interns, please check out our 'Learn More' page by clicking here.