Nonprofit Internships: Making the Most of the Experience

From being a gopher to manning a phone bank during a fundraiser; non-profit internships play an invaluable role in a nonprofit’s success.

They are committed to the work, have new ideas and their commitment to your mission carries on long after their participation in your internship program ends.

Nonprofit internships offer benefits to both the nonprofit as well as the interns. They are a great boon to a nonprofit’s tight budget and offers the intern real-world experience and a resume booster when they go looking for a job. If it’s a good experience, everyone benefits. If it’s a great experience, you might see your intern expand on their commitment to your organization as a volunteer or employee.

But internships have a definite end date and can easily get off track on the way to the goals of your nonprofit and those of the intern. Getting the most out of an internship program, while providing a valuable experience, is achievable if you’ve designed a program that supports your intern and keeps the focus on their goals and yours.

Getting the Most Out of the Internships Time

When an intern evaluates potential programs, they are looking for nonprofits who most closely fit their ultimate employment goal post-graduation. They look at its learning potential, its reputation and how the mission itself aligns with their personal values.

An internship program should be designed to address the nonprofit’s goals and clearly define a path to reach each intern’s personal goals. Understand how the position fits into your nonprofit and pinpoint projects where interns can provide value while they learn new skills. Note the specific strengths and competencies that are needed and consider what previous real-world experience, technical skills, and natural social acumen is most important to the position you’ve created, then look for the candidate whose skills most closely fit that description.

Embrace your intern’s fresh perspective and enthusiasm. Incentivize them in a meaningful way. Pay them at least a living wage. Interns know they expect to come away with a wealth of knowledge from the experience, but if they can’t afford to pay their rent there is little chance they’ll be able to afford the experience.

Interns, like volunteers, often chose nonprofits out of a passion for the organization’s mission, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have all the job skills required to do the job. Train your interns to handle a busy event night with ease based on the same training you give your volunteers. For a refresher on how to evaluate the talents interns and volunteers check out our blog post “Training Your Volunteers for Event Night Success.”

Giving the Intern a Valuable Experience

To be valuable, an internship program should be clear in its objectives and deliver a rewarding experience for the intern. Consider the program from his or her perspective. Consult with their advisor and get a sense of what the candidate values, their sense of where their strengths and weaknesses lay, and their career priorities during the interviewing process. This is their chance to bolster their resume and it’s your job as the internship provider to help them achieve that goal.

To keep the focus on goals it may be a good idea to see your internship program as a project with a clear path to an end goal. Create a training program, whether it’s only a day or shadowing someone throughout the project. This can ensure that the project goes smoothly and the intern gains the experience, knowledge, and skills they want from the experience.

Throughout the project offer ongoing support for your intern. Supervise them well and ensure they have access to consistent training programs they can reference at any time that reinforces your organization’s mission. Have the technical support and tools they need to get the job done available as well. Interns want to become familiar with as many of the essential tools they’ll be working within their future careers and they see their internship as a way to get hands-on experience with them prior to entering the workforce.

And, finally, always give your interns encouragement to feed their enthusiasm for work in the nonprofit sector. Every intern you bring into your organization sees a life of service ahead of them and you will want their first experience working for a nonprofit to be a motivating factor, not a detriment to that lofty ambition. Check in with them after occasionally to find out how they are doing and whether or not they are able to meet your goals, as well as theirs, while always keeping the focus on your nonprofit’s mission.

Above all, treat your interns like they are part of the team. Be flexible and understanding as they leverage their classroom knowledge with the real-world experience your internship program has been designed to provide. Introduce them to key people and give them respectfully honest critiques along the way. They will thank you for your guidance and thoughtful consideration of their goals.

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