Successful nonprofit internships require solid preparation and consistent management of your intern.
Remember—they are learning on the job. You’ve signed up to do some hand-holding!
Leave the details of your internship position open-ended enough to meet the skills and interests of the candidate you’ve hired. Theoretically, you’ve asked about those things in your initial interview and have determined they’re a good match for your organization.
When it comes to structuring the internship, start with the broad strokes and then narrow in.
When your intern begins, start them off with an orientation to your organization. Let them get a feel for the overall work you do, and have them spend a couple of days shadowing you or your program staff and meeting community members.
As you narrow down to the department they’ll be working most closely with, have them sit with their supervisor and outline an idea of the work they’ll tackle over the course of their time with you.
A great rule of thumb for any internship is to define one, comprehensive project that will not only benefit your organization but give the intern something to put on their resume later. It should include measurable parameters of success and allow them to show growth, learning, and value over their time with you.
How to Manage Interns’ Day-to-Day Experience
Especially in the beginning of their time with you, interns may have lots of questions—and they may be too afraid to ask!
Don’t wait for them to come to you. Check in regularly, and extra-often at first. Define reasonable expectations and timelines for the work they’re doing, and touch base before those deadlines arrive to see if they need help getting there.
Grab coffee with your intern or take them out to lunch a few times over the course of their time with you. Get to know what they’re enjoying about their work with your organization, if they’re experiencing any challenges, and what they’d like to do in the future.
Use this feedback to help course-correct and evolve their position and the scope of their project to best meet their goals.
Where to Recruit Interns for Your Nonprofit
Ideally, you’ll co-create the details of the position with the intern themselves; it should be tailored to that young person’s talents, interests, and emerging abilities.
It’s best to have a general idea of the kinds of support you’d be open to receiving from an internship—and then recruit individual candidates with those options in mind.
With that said, there are several places to look for the perfect match!
Local Colleges & University Programs
Colleges and universities already have the infrastructure in place to support interns on their end. They also have access to a pool of potential candidates, as well as knowledge of their students’ interests and skill sets. They can help pair you with an intern who shares a passion for your mission.
High schools, churches, and civic associations that involve young people are great places to look for interns. One of the most important parts—if not the most important part—of offering internships is providing opportunities for people of any age who’ve shown an interest in the work you do.
Social Media & Email Marketing
Promoting an internship program is a great use of both your social media platforms and email marketing capabilities. Ask readers to share posts and forward emails for even wider reach.
It can be difficult to cut through the noise online—especially on social platforms. Use local hashtags on Instagram and TikTok, and remember that you’ll most likely be addressing students’ parents on Facebook! Tailor your message to your audience.
Online Job Search Platforms
You can place your open position on a job listing website like Indeed or Idealist.org, which is specifically tailored to nonprofit organizations. Local and statewide nonprofit associations, municipal websites, educational institutions, and others often host online job search boards, as well.