In the last few months, Graduate Fog has seen some shocking displays of arrogance among those organisations which continue to expect young people to work for nothing, in the form of unpaid internships.

But folks, this one takes the biscuit.

The National Trust has advertised for an unpaid intern to be their ‘Internship Programme Coordinator’. In other words, this unpaid worker is there solely to help set up the organisation’s new internship programme, which will encourage more interns to come and work for them unpaid.

I quote: “As an intern yourself, you’ll be able to advise colleagues on how best to recruit and support fellow interns.”

Translation: “You’ll be working for nothing, and we’ll waste your time by asking you what it’s like working for us nothing, so that it becomes even easier for us to encourage more young people to work us for nothing. See? Aren’t we geniuses?!”

As the National Trust rolls out an expensive-looking new advertising campaign across London Underground (slogan: ‘Time well spent’) its audacious request raises the question: “Time well spent, for WHOM?”

What real value does the intern get from this experience? Or is it really only the National Trust that gains anything from this internship? And when they descend to levels like this, for how much longer can charities hope to keep passing off their ‘internships’ as true ‘volunteer’ roles?

Here is an excerpt from the astonishing advertisement, which appears on the National Trust’s own website:

We’ll be launching a brand new internship progamme this summer and we’d like you to help make it happen. Based at our award-winning central office, you’ll be involved in all aspects of this exciting programme, from its development and launch through to its successful implementation. As an intern yourself, you’ll be able to advise colleagues on how best to recruit and support fellow interns. On other words, you’ll give us an invaluable insight into what interns want from a programme — and how we can make sure that our programme stands out.

We’d like you to have some experience of planning and delivering progescts — and to tight deadlines too. Full of ideas and initiative, quick and keen to learn, you’ll enjoy working in a team but can also get your head down on your own when needed. Just as important, you’ll be a clear communicator, with the confidence to work with colleagues across the organisation. You’ll also need IT skills, MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint especially.

This ‘Internships Programme Coordinator’ role was one of four positions advertised recently by the National Trust. It stated that the internship would last for six months, during which interns can expect to work up to 30 hours a week. No expenses were offered.

Here is what happened when I emailed the National Trust:

From: Graduate Fog
To: National Trust press office


My name is Tanya de Grunwald and I run a graduate careers advice website called Graduate Fog.

I am surprised to see that you are openly advertising for unpaid interns to help you at the National Trust, for up to 30 hours a week for up to nine months, paying expenses only. The four roles currently advertised are:

– Volunteering communications coordinator (6 months)
– Internship Programme Coordinator (6 months)
– Volunteering & community involvement strategy coordinator (6-9 months)
– Change programme liaison assistant (contract length not stated)

As we all know, unpaid internships have become commonplace. However, it is my belief that they are ethically dubious – and their legal status is unclear. My understanding is that there is currently a loophole in the law designed to protect genuine volunteering for organisations with charitable status – which I understand the National Trust has – but it is my belief that this is being exploited by many large organisations simply looking to cut their costs at the expense of their most junior members of staff.

For all of these role descriptions, the National Trust goes into great detail about the nature of the work involved in each internship. In my opinion, the roles that you describe in your advertisements are not those of a true charitable volunteer. To me, all four ‘internships’ sound to me like jobs that should be paid.

In the ‘About our Internships’ paragraph, you say:

“You’ll be involved in, even manage, key projects. Real projects too, with real responsibility…”

Then, for the volunteering communications coordinator role, you say:

“As well as managing communications and writing new web content, you’ll look at we use social media and online communities to talk to current and potential volunteers. You’ll also help us to create a brand new ‘volunteers area’ on our website…”

For the internship programme coordinator role you say:

“We’ll be launching a brand new Internship Programme this summer and we’d like you to help make it happen… you’ll be involved in all aspects of this exciting programme, from its development and launch through to its successful implementation. As an intern yourself, you’ll be able to advise colleagues on how best to recruit and support fellow interns…”

For the volunteering & community involvement strategy coordinator, you say:

“Through interviews, workshops and focus groups, you’ll talk to key stakeholders to make sure that we’re effectively delivering our strategy. As well as identifying key milestones, knowing what needs to be achieved when, you’ll help to ensure that everyone in the Trust knows about our plans for volunteer and community involvement…”

For the change programme liaison assistant role you say:

“You’ll identify how we’ll we’re progressing against our key milestones. You’ll find out where obstacles are and how best we can overcome them. In everything you do, you’ll be a real champion for the ‘Performing at our best’ priority, communicating this vital value with clarity and enthusiasm…”

Even if we set your legal obligations aside for a moment, does the National Trust not accept that that these unpaid internships take advantage of those who do them – and exclude those who can’t afford to do them? Frankly, considering the National Trust’s excellent reputation, I would expect your organisation to be more careful about being seen to take advantage of young workers like this. Do you not agree that you are effectively only offering these placements to those who can afford to work for free, thereby excluding those who can’t afford this ‘luxury’?

Having had recent dealings with Comic Relief on a similar case, I understand that volunteering is a crucial aspect of charitable organisations’ work. However, I – and my users – feel it is important not to confuse genuine volunteering (which people do in their spare time, out of the goodness of their heart) with unpaid interning (which people do full-time, because they are desperate for experience and feel they have no alternative).

I will be blogging about next week and would be very grateful if somebody from the National Trust would care to comment (in writing, via email) on this at your earliest convenience. Are you willing to reconsider your position and turn these roles into paid opportunities?

With many thanks


The National Trust replied:

From: National Trust press office
To: Graduate Fog


Please see below for some words responding to your query about our internships.

Feel free to give me a call if you’d like to discuss further.

Best wishes,

Mike Collins
Senior Press Officer (natural environment)

National Trust internships

As a charity and organisation that works with tens of thousands of volunteers these voluntary internships are just one way in which people can support the organisation whilst looking to develop their own skills and experience.

We are committed to ensuring that opportunities created through the National Trust Internship Programme are accessible to as wide a range of applicants as possible, whether recent graduates or people seeking a career change. There are also a range of long term voluntary roles which help people get a foothold in to a career path of their choice.

Our internships are designed to offer people of all ages, and backgrounds the chance to gain some solid work experience in an area of their choice.

All our internships are purely voluntary and arrangements are not legally binding. As with all volunteering opportunities with the National Trust, out-of-pocket travel costs between home and the volunteering place will be paid, and other reasonable expenses agreed in advance.

We’ve designed this programme so that all of our opportunities are part time and we ensure that they are as flexible as possible to allow time for paid work, job seeking or alternative training. This ensures that our Interns are still able to undertake paid work or claim Jobseekers Allowance whilst volunteering with us.

Internships are just one opportunity to develop a career with the Trust. We also run a range of apprenticeships and traineeships, both paid and unpaid.

We are currently recruiting some volunteer internship roles which will ensure that volunteers have an opportunity to lead the development of our volunteering offer. The recruitment process will be testing and thorough and we will help interns as much as possible so that they can move into full-time work.

Annoyed? So was I – so I wrote back:

From: Graduate Fog
To: National Trust Press Office

Thanks for this Mike. You have clearly taken great care over this response, but I am disappointed that it fails to answer the majority of my questions. I anticipate that most of my users will feel similarly frustrated.

To clarify, does the National Trust not feel any sense that these internships are ethically dubious?

I am also interested in the point you make about your internships being taken up by people of all ages. Whilst I believe that your volunteers are of all ages, I find it very hard to believe that these internships are taken up by people of all ages, given the nature of the work, which is clearly designed to appeal to those in the early stages of their careers and eager to gain work experience. In order to support your point, would you be able to find out the average age of your interns at the National Trust?

Also, should we take it that you are unwilling to consider turning these internships into paid opportunities?

With thanks again,


PS. I would prefer not to speak on the phone as it is best to have this in writing so that you cannot claim that I have misquoted you.

PPS. Do you get paid to do your job?

At this point, it all went quiet. So about a week later I wrote:

From: Graduate Fog
To: National Trust press office

Hi Mike
Are you planning to respond to my email? Or have you said everything you wish to say?
Thanks again,

A few days later, the National Trust replied:

From: National Trust press office
To: Graduate Fog

Hi Tanya,

I’m sorry that I didn’t respond. I think that we’ll keep to that statement.


This is the debate that won’t die. Nick Clegg used it last week when justifying unpaid internships within the Lib Dems – and charities of all sizes are doing the same thing. I know we’re not supposed to pick on (supposedly) lovely charities, which are run by (supposedly) lovely people – but what I’m seeing is decidedly un-lovely. And I’m not about to let this one go.

I’m dismayed to see charities like Comic Relief and the National Trust dragging their excellent reputations into the gutter by using unpaid interns – and trying desperately to convince us all that these are ‘volunteer’ roles.

People who genuinely volunteer do so out of the goodness of their hearts.

These are not volunteer roles. In my opinion they are cynically targeted at young people (usually graduates) who are so desperate for experience that they will work for free if they can afford it. As a result, those who can’t afford it are effectively locked out of working in the charity sector, where long stretches of unpaid experience are a necessity before even being considered for paid roles, however junior.

I know times are tough in the charity sector right now. But looking to unpaid workers to fill the gaps in your balance sheet isn’t fair or right. You know it and we know it. Find another way to balance your books. Do more fundraising, spend less on advertising and PR, ditch a few expensive executives – frankly, we don’t care. But STOP taking advantage of young workers.

*What do you think of the National Trust’s “Internship Programme Coordinator” role?
Is the National Trust taking advantage of its brand name to trick a young person into working for them for free? Is there any way this could be viewed as a true volunteer role?

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