Is skilled based volunteering the way of the future for interning?

Meet Emma Irvine Collins - our Intern

At Orange Sky and Volaby, we love celebrating all things volunteering, and in particular those who aren’t afraid of “giving things a crack.” This is absolutely reflected in our Orange Sky intern, Emma Irvine-Collins who is spearheading an incredible project revolving around the development on Skilled Based Volunteering within Orange Sky using Volaby.

My time so far as an Orange Sky intern has been one of the most rewarding experiences, both personally and professionally. After hearing about Orange Sky through a family friend, I was immediately intrigued by the organisation and their focus on creating a more inclusive community while supporting those doing it tough. I knew I wanted to get involved with Orange Sky and gain experience in this area – what I didn’t realise at the time is that it would take seven months to come to fruition.

After meeting with Orange Sky’s Chief Operations Officer, Mike Duggan in February, we developed a project and planned for me to start an internship. Unfortunately, like most things in 2020, it was put on hold due to COVID-19. In June, I emailed again with hopes to get things moving, but this time doing it alongside an internship subject for my final semester of my dual Social Science and Political Science degree. With a skill-based volunteering stream project needing to be explored, I began my internship in August (finally!).

Most of my time in the office has consisted of meeting the team and understanding how the organisation operates, working on the project, and continuing with my university research project. While I have learnt so much from my time at Orange Sky, I want to share the five major lessons I will take away from this experience.

  1. No two days are the same, so being flexible is vital. Asking myself ‘How are my decisions contributing to this mission?’ helped me when I was in doubt. With such a simple yet significant organisation mission, one that I feel passionate about myself, also proved beneficial. For any task that might otherwise seem mundane, I found greater meaning and was determined to work hard because I knew it was contributing to something much larger and more meaningful.  
  2. It’s okay not to know the answer, so long as you know where to go to try and find it. With many employees saying it took them months to find their feet at the organisation, my 12-week internship became slightly more daunting as it dawned on me that I would need to understand a lot in a short space of time. However, I soon realised the only way to feel comfortable and confident during my internship was to ask questions. I think most people in the office now have seen my head pop up as I start a conversation with “hey, I’ve got a quick question for you!
  3. Nothing, including almost four years of study, compares to real-life experience. My answer to the question “Do you enjoy your degree?” has always been the same. “I love it, but it lacks real life experience”. My understanding of community development and non-profits stems from literature, theory and whatever teachings my university lecturers thought was necessary for us to know.  However, upon starting my internship with Orange Sky, I soon realised how different theory and practice were, and how important real-life experience in your area of study is. My degree has helped me grow confidence in my researching and communication skills, but after just three weeks at Orange Sky, I already felt like I was building on transferable professional skills that I could use throughout my career
  4. Passion can be discovered. During my project that focused on volunteering, I was unsure whether I would genuinely enjoy this research topic for the three months. However, after initial meetings with the Operations team and independent research, I quickly became quite passionate about this space. I continually wanted to explore more about how we could create the most positive environment for volunteers to ensure services are delivered to the best of their ability. I feel more confident now that I can find interest in topics I might have otherwise dismissed and make the most of opportunities that come my way.
  5. When in doubt, remember the underlying goal of what you are doing. As I tried to understand what decisions were necessary to make during my project, I quickly adapted the mindset of keeping Orange Sky’s mission, positively connecting communities, as my guiding light. It’s simple, yet significant (and one that I feel passionate about myself) – so asking myself “How are my decisions contributing to this mission?” helped me when I was in doubt. For any task that might otherwise seem mundane, I found greater meaning and was determined to work hard because I knew it was contributing to something much larger and more meaningful.

For four years, I have learnt from textbooks about community development, about theories and theorists, and models of best practice when it comes to development. Yet for the entirety of my degree, I had no certainty that this space was really for me. This internship has helped me realise it is. Knowing each day that I am supporting an organisation that truly helps people has made these past few weeks the most rewarding of any job or experience I have ever done.

So, my advice for anyone thinking about interning? Do it. Put in the time to find a place that is meaningful to you and soak up the experience every day you are there.  My internship was seven months in the making, but I can wholeheartedly say that every email, call and meeting to make this happen was worth it. Nothing in life worth having comes easy, so you need to work hard for the things that matter to you and make the most of it when it’s yours.