Attracting Quality Unpaid Interns by Using Benefits

An internship program can be a fantastic way to meet smart and ambitious people who display a sincere interest in your organization. However, some organizations only have the resources to create unpaid internship programs. The inability to offer compensation can make it harder to attract quality candidates, but offering some incentives that fall within the rules of unpaid internships may help.

Unpaid Internships

In most states from Alaska to Florida, unpaid interns must be enrolled in a school or vocational program and offered equivalent credit hours for their duties. Washington State is one of the only states that does not require the unpaid intern to be actively enrolled in a college or program. Instead, the rules say the experience must be similar to an “educational environment.” Washington rules define this as the employer providing an active learning environment where the intern does not contribute–or offers limited contribution–to the operations of the organization.

In most states, interns can’t replace the duties of a paid employee and the organization cannot depend on their internship program for its operations. If it is determined that they are doing regular filing, data entry, or physical labor, they are entitled to employee health benefits offered to all part-time paid employees and may be subject to federal workplace guidelines.

Keep in mind that working with a school program and offering credits can lend credibility to your program and can help to ensure that a true learning environment has been created.

Intern Benefits

To attract enthusiastic interns, we suggest non-healthcare related benefits such as:

  • Bus Passes –Most bus pass programs are tax deductible in some way. For example, Anchorage’s People Mover’s first $125 employer contribution per month per employee is tax-free. In Washington’s King County Metro program, employers can provide employee with up to $245/month as a tax-exempt benefit. The employer also pays no payroll taxes on the value of the benefit and the expense can be claimed in part against State B&O tax.
  • Gym Passes –If there is a gym near your location or this is a benefit offered as part of your wellness plan, ask your insurance broker and the gym about adding limited memberships.
  • Parties – Invite them to holiday parties and summer company BBQs for the entire year during which their internship takes place.
  • Tuition Reimbursement –Internships can yield school credit. Depending on the number of hours and scope of the program, this can mean 3 to 5 credits of hands-on learning. Tuition reimbursement can be a percentage of tuition and the rules vary by state. Ask your accountant about tax incentives.
  • Mentorship programs –This program generally runs past the internship and, if successful, can go past graduation. Ongoing mentorship after the internship can produce a life-long advocate and future employee or board member.
  • Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) –According to internal data, stress and substance abuse are two of the largest claim categories for many Washington College and University insurance plans. EAP offers phone and face-to-face counseling for those issues and others including financial and legal counseling.
  • Concierge Services –A growing number of organizations offer assistance shopping, dry cleaning, buying tickets, etc, for their busy staff who may not be able to get these things done during the day. Extending these services to interns will make them feel special and may even inspire them to refer other prospects.

The benefits of an unpaid intern vary across organizations. Whether your organization gains a new technological mind, a fresh marketing perspective, or an eager new hire, benefits may be the in-road to finding them. Contact the Non-profit Practice Group for more helpful tips.

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