Four Golden Rules of Nonprofit Internships:
Is your Nonprofit Giving your Summer Interns a Great Experience?
In nonprofit organizations, college interns can be a tremendous resource. Not only are they unpaid, but more often than not they are energetic and eager to contribute. In return for their efforts, they should gain a valuable learning experience from your program. Are you giving your interns the best experience possible? And is your organization getting the most out of nonprofit internships?
The four guidelines below are widely considered the golden rules to make the internship experience mutually beneficial to both your intern and your organization.
Rule 1: Assign a point person to be the intern’s mentor.
This point person should be available for everyday questions and concerns, and should also meet with them regularly- at least weekly- to check in, discuss how things are going and give feedback. Interns need support and supervision just like paid employees, and it’s important for organizations to provide this. If your nonprofit internships involve counseling or other services that can be emotionally charged, allowing interns to discuss and process what they have experienced is especially important.
Rule 2: Provide an orientation process at the beginning.
This should include an overview of your program and basic training on providing services. Although this may take an initial investment of time for your program to develop, it can be used over and over as an orientation for interns, other volunteers, and board members. On the intern’s first day, the point person should also introduce them to everyone and make them feel welcome. Welcome kits with your program logo on them are a small way of making them feel special and part of the team.
Rule 3: Give interns a variety of tasks both large and small.
Of course, this will usually include things like copying and collating, but it should also include skill-building tasks. To think of ideas for intern duties that can be beneficial to both the intern and to you, simply think of things that you wish you could get to. Do you need to research funding opportunities? Is there a community collaboration meeting you don’t have time to attend but could send them to? If they sat in on program services, can you have them complete the required documentation (for you to review and sign) so you don’t have to? Can they write an article for your newsletter? (Don’t have a topic? How about “My Experience as an Intern”?) Can they help with the design and execution of a fundraising event? College students at nonprofit internships may also have skills that your paid staff members don’t; for example, they may be able to expand and update your program’s social media presence better or faster than your staff can.
Rule 4: Show your appreciation.
An important part of showing appreciation for your interns’ efforts is to end with a ceremony that acknowledges their hard work. Thank them for their contributions and review their experiences in a way that gives them a chance to reflect on what they have learned.
Internships are a two-way process: you are there to pass knowledge and experience on to them, and they are there to contribute to your program, not only through their work but also through their fresh perspectives. The more you put into supporting interns, the more you will reap the benefits of their participation in return.
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