Financial resources for pre-program conservation interns

Internships are an important part of preparing for graduate training in conservation.  They are often volunteer positions and finding ways to manage the financial demands of working without monetary compensation can be a challenge.  This is most often the case for pre-program interns but certainly graduate interns and even recent graduates can face similar issues.
Here are a few tips and resources for developing a strategy to address these concerns:
Of course the best way to make an internship financially viable is to be paid for your work.  There are two strategies in applying for funding to cover the expense of your internship: You can apply on your own behalf, as an individual, or you can encourage an institution — such as a museum or historic site — with which you’d like to work to apply for funds to host a paid intern.
For individual grants, a good place to start can be with your undergraduate alma mater, even if you are no longer a current student.  Most colleges and universities will provide information on available scholarships or grants that might be used towards funding internships as well as information on potential internship opportunities.  And don’t forget to represent yourself:  There are funding opportunities available specifically for women, minorities, new Americans, non-traditional students, and veterans and their families. The recently established Denese L. Easterly Conservation Training Pre-program Grant at Indigo Arts Alliance is open to individual applicants for funding for internships as well as other pre-program expenses such as additional required courses, supplies, and more.
For institutional grants, look for funding opportunities at the federal, state, regional, or county level with arts commissions or historic preservation offices.   For example, the LA County Arts Commission offers funding for a 10-week internship at a ‘non-profit arts organization’.  Check AIC’s ‘Grants and Scholarships’ page, especially the section on ‘Outside Funding Sources’, as some of those listed are national grants open to institutions and provide money that can be used to host an intern.
Finally, if you’re applying for a grant or scholarship, don’t forget to check out AIC’s ‘Five tips for a successful scholarship application’, also available through their ‘Grants and Scholarships’ page.  Grant-writing can be an essential part of work in the non-profit world and developing this skill is always useful.
Necessities and considerations:
There are several other aspects to developing a successful strategy for supporting yourself during an internship, paid or volunteer.
Health care:
Health care is essential and finding it affordably priced can be tricky.  With the new health care law, people may stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26, which is an advantage since family plans tend to be less expensive than those for individuals.  It is possible to shop online for insurance options via sites like the federally-supported and many states are setting up similar online marketplaces.  The amount you pay will depend heavily on the type of coverage you need or want.  For example, if you are generally healthy, month-to-month insurance might be a cheaper option though your co-pay and deductible will be higher.  Also, if you are interning with an organization that offers health benefits to its employees, you might ask about the cost of purchasing their plan, though it is less likely to be available for volunteers.
There are potential tax benefits to being a volunteer intern and it’s important to make the most of these, especially if money is tight.  Certain volunteer expenses can be deducted on your annual tax return if you are interning for a recognized non-profit or 501(c) organization.  Also, don’t forget to make the most of education credits if you are a current student or if you are paying interest on student loans.  Lastly, if you need free or low-cost tax help, the IRS provides several options.
Other types of financial support:
If you are below a certain annual income, you may qualify for food assistance, though eligibility varies from state to state.  Likewise, some public transportation authorities offer subsidized fare passes for volunteers, low-income members of the community, and/or in partnership with certain businesses and organizations.
Based on anecdotal evidence, there is a variety of strategies and resources developed to manage a volunteer, part-time, or low-pay internship.  Here are a few from the experience of others:

  • Work full or part-time in a paid position simultaneous to a part-time volunteer or low-pay internship.  Look for paid positions with a flexible schedule or odd hours (e.g. mornings, swing shift). When seeking opportunities, consider those beyond working in a conservation lab which might contribute to your pre-program experience, for example in a frame shop, a library, as a set builder, or painting houses.  Many of these jobs give you an opportunity to develop hand skills or technical knowledge related to conservation (e.g. the use of solvents, hand tools, or collections management systems).  Remember that every job is an opportunity to develop important people and communication skills.
  • Supportive friends and family might be looking for ways to help.  One suggestion is to request professional memberships, community college tuition, bus passes, or supplies as gifts for your birthday, graduation or at holidays.
  • If possible, especially while gaining pre-program experience, live at home and work locally.  If you live in a big city, it may be easier to find experience in a major museum but if you’re outside a city, try looking at local historical societies and libraries where you might volunteer.  These opportunities will put you in good standing to apply to other, more specialized or even paid internships.

No doubt there are many ways to manage the financial challenge of working as a volunteer intern that haven’t been addressed or represented here.  We invite you to briefly share your suggestions or experiences on how you found, cultivated, or created resources during any of your pre-program conservation internships.

5 thoughts on “Financial resources for pre-program conservation interns”

  1. Author, no doubt there are many ways to manage the financial challenges of this field and they certainly have NOT been addressed here. You should be ASHAMED of your warped advice on “navigating life without monetary compensation” for both pre-program, graduate students, and even recent graduates. The fact that this article is even published on AIC makes me sick and further supports the notion that the AIC body and the profession as a whole have no interest in fighting for the rightful wages that conservators deserve. This article paves the pathway all individuals entering the field to think that unpaid labor is sanctified in this field and should be embraced as one can always receive food stamps and “food assistance” if he or she is living in the right state!! Author, I know you aren’t surviving on state given food assistance, so think twice before offering this guidance to others. Or better yet, one should think it is great to attain month-by-month private health insurance if, as the author said, you are in “generally good” health! Please, take the risk of getting in an accident or suddenly falling terribly ill and paying that very large deductible, because of course free labor in this field is worth this large risk! And best of all, this author thinks travel stipends and work supplies should qualify as personal GIFTS? Of course only this field would think it is normal to ask one’s family and friends for gifts of work travel stipends and conservation-related supplies since violating minimum wage laws is such a fashioned trend nowadays. Shame on conservators who create unpaid jobs and internships for preprogram and graduate students and then allow their institution or private business to violate U.S. Department of Labor laws that states an internship must benefit the intern rather than the employee. Give me a break when you are screaming in your head right now, “But of course I’m aren’t violating these laws! My interns students are learning so it’s not labor!!”. Newsflash conservators: the mind numbing tasks of easy treatment skills and collections management tasks that these individuals often carry out ALWAYS benefit a private business or Conservation Department within an institution. As a current graduate student, you should be disgusted for telling college educated individuals to comply with the current standards of the field and not address the needed necessary changes to improve standards. AIC and the profession as a whole need to come together to resolve this problem once and for all; however, it cannot start when the upcoming generation of conservators, like this author, carry this shameful mindset. Shame on you.

  2. Great post! One resource not in the article was the Foundation Center ( which is a great resource for grantseekers at any level of their career. Their online free search can be limited; however, FC has offices around the country, and their library has the full capability of their search available for anyone to use on site. They also offer free grant-seeker workshops sometimes that are very basic, but a good thing to go to if you’ve never ever applied for a grant before.
    Anon, I don’t think the author is advocating FOR unpaid internships. However, the fact is that they do exist and numerous pre-program students do work in unpaid or low-paid jobs (not counting the fact that it is extremely hard to hold down a job while getting the educational credits required to apply to graduate school). While we work to change this reality, it makes sense to discuss the ways in which we also survive in this reality.

  3. Dear Anon, As the e-Editor I wanted to let you know that the AIC blog was created as a forum for the free exchange of information and discussion for our membership and the public. With such a diverse membership of course we will not always have agreement on topics and methods – even on such an important topic as wages and benefits and the way they impact our field. The topics covered on the blog represent the work and opinions of a lot of people not just, and not necessarily, AIC as an organization.
    In my work with the AIC Staff and Board I can certainly attest that the issues of how our field is perceived and compensated is a topic of great concern. Even when we don’t agree, I think raising our voice to our leadership in productive and constructive ways benefits us all. I hope, in whatever confidential way you would find most comfortable, that you will reach out to Pam Hatchfield or other AIC leaders to discuss your concerns.

  4. Dear Anon.
    You make many good points, but their focus is blurred by your negative invective. AIC is not a trade union, but a professional association. Important difference. Want to improve employment and wage conditions in conservation; get unionized. Don’t whine to a body whose remit is professional development, training, standards, research and public awareness.
    And remember, you’ve got to suffer if you want to sing the blues.

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