In the Modern World, interns are almost everywhere. This is no different with nonprofit internships.

Paid or unpaid, these programs offer valuable, real world experience for many who will soon enter the workforce. They give young adults the chance to gain experience in their field or even a simple opportunity to see if they like the field they are pursuing. Yet, internship programs are not just beneficial for the interns; they can also be fruitful for nonprofits, especially when unpaid. However, there are some working methods and careful considerations a nonprofit should be aware of before committing to an unpaid internship program, which are outlined below.

Questions to Consider with Internships

  1. How can interns specifically support your nonprofit’s mission? Before taking on any interns, a nonprofit should have some roles or positions in mind for their potential interns. For example, interns can do research and write, develop new leads for business or marketing, or provide other support to the organization as a whole. Your nonprofit must have potential roles in mind before accepting any applications.
  2. What can your nonprofit offer potential interns? Any nonprofit should consider what they can offer to potential interns, especially when they intend for the program to be unpaid. Is it experience your nonprofit can offer? If so, how unique is that experience? Often, the best internships offer a mix of common and unique experience. The more common experience can be that of working in an office and supporting an organization; however, more unique experiences, settings, and roles often attract more potential interns who find that your nonprofit offers something others do not.  
  3. Does your nonprofit have the resources necessary to support interns? For many, this question is a make-or-break situation. While interns can provide valuable assistance, they require guidance, support, and supervision. To make the most of an intern program, nonprofits must be able to provide adequate training, support, and management. Another consideration is office space: does your nonprofit have the space for interns to be able to work? Lastly, a nonprofit must consider who will manage and provide leadership for the interns. This takes time from an employee’s regular workday, so knowing who can provide consistent management for interns is key.
  4. Can your staff benefit from the help of interns? As with the last question, interns and staff must work together; however, interns are there to help your nonprofit, not hinder. Another consideration for a nonprofit is whether or not interns can be a benefit to current staff: can they provide assistance? Ease workloads? Unfortunately, without proper preparation by a nonprofit, interns may unintentionally act as more of a burden on staff than helping hands.

Outline A Program Before Accepting Applications

After making careful consideration on an internship program and deciding to pursue it, a nonprofit must then plan and outline the program itself. As previously stated, without proper preparation, an internship program can become a burden. To avoid this entirely, one should outline each and every aspect of the program, including the goals, timeline, qualifications required, and recruiting.

  1. Goals for the Program: Creating clear goals for the program helps ensure its success. Without them, internships can be uncertain and have no real way of knowing if anyone is benefiting from them. These goals can be unique to every nonprofit, based on their needs; however, there are some goals commonly found among internship programs. For example, interns can be brought on to help with specific projects or initiatives, or internships can serve as potential employee pipelines, helping nonprofits find and hire the best help possible.
  2. Timeline for the internship: As with creating clear goals, unpaid internships must eventually end. Setting an end date or a timeline keeps the goals of the program relevant and allows nonprofits to schedule in accordance with the internships. For instance, a nonprofit may experience busy summers and need help from interns during this time. On the other hand, a nonprofit may prefer to work with interns during slower times of the year to ensure the program is a priority and benefits both the interns and staff as much as possible.
  3. Qualifications your nonprofit needs: Depending on the goals and type of work, your nonprofit may need interns with some specific or unique qualifications. Some qualifiers to take into consideration are the education level of interns (high school, college, post-graduate), the majors of college students who may most appropriately be able to do the work and benefit from the experience, skills that interns may need, and whether interns will need any technical knowledge. The right candidates for your nonprofit will have the qualifications that best meet your goals, needs, and mission.
  4. How and Where to Recruit: Upon considering and completing the prior steps, a nonprofit must then consider how and where to recruit. Online recruitment can be beneficial and help a nonprofit receive more applications from more places; however, one of the best places to recruit interns is on college campuses. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, around 60% of college students do an internship or co-op before graduating. Since experience is so valuable for them, nonprofits can typically find eager and competent candidates on most college campuses.

The Best Ways to Manage Interns

Goals, Goals, Goals

As covered, managing interns is a key part of any internship program, yet how to do so can vary. Just as setting goals for the program is important, it is equally important to set goals for interns. These goals can take a number of forms, dependent on the need of your nonprofit. However, it is wise to set an overall goal for the entirety of the internship as well as smaller goals that are achievable in a week’s time. This way, both the nonprofit and the intern understand what needs to be accomplished and share a sense of satisfaction.

Don’t Skip Training

For many, an internship is the first step into the workforce, so training is necessary. A nonprofit should use the training period to make interns aware of the mission of the nonprofit, their responsibilities as interns, and how to do their part. For example, if your nonprofit uses specific software programs for certain tasks, interns using that software will need to be sufficiently trained on it. Otherwise, both the interns and the nonprofit may find the program taxing.

Meaningful Work

Any person who becomes invested in their work or the organization they work for will inevitably work harder. Although nonprofits commonly do some of the best work there is, interns need to clearly see and understand their impact in the work, their place in aiding the mission. Be sure to involve them as much as possible. Helping them see the impact of the nonprofit and their work will ensure satisfying results with their experience and for your nonprofit.

Staff Leadership

For staff, an internship program is also a chance for personal growth. Assigning certain staff to work with interns can produce fruitful, internal results. Working with interns gives a nonprofit’s staff the chance to grow, especially in leadership ability. While interns gain experience for entering the workforce, a nonprofit’s staff can gain experience for management. To make the most out of an internship program, assigning specific staff is necessary. Help them and help your staff.

Internships Make a Difference

Despite a lack of monetary compensation, internships are an innovative and rewarding experience for  interns, a nonprofit staff, and a nonprofit as a whole. However, to make the most out of an internship program, proper planning is required. A nonprofit must consider each and every aspect of the program to ensure that everyone involved will be satisfied with the results. If this is done, an internship can be an absolute game changer for a nonprofit.

For more tips, tricks, advice, and guides on how to make the most of your nonprofit, check out more of our articles. Here at Nonprofit Megaphone, our mission is to make your mission a success.

By Richard Morris