This is the Blackbaud Community Best Practices blog.

Triple The Impact In Your Local Community

Want to know a way that you can have triple the impact in your local community? Get an intern!

Reflecting back on several of my internships, the experiences were incredibly valuable to my career as well as to the organization. I walked away knowing I grew a lot as a professional and the organization is in a better place. Unfortunately, I see many organizations struggle to embrace interns in their work and think of them as burdens. This not only is a missed opportunity for the organization, but it hurts the talent pool for the nonprofit sector. If nonprofits embraced more interns, specifically young professionals, then the pipeline for nonprofit leadership will grow.

As a nonprofit professional who has have 10 internships, served a career counselor, and supervised several interns, I’d like to share tips I believe can help nonprofits grow young leaders, improve capacity at their organization, and create a pipeline for stronger nonprofit talent. 

Focus on capacity building projects. All nonprofits want to improve their mission right? Capacity building projects are a creative way to help a nonprofit and inspire interns. Have the project or couple projects be the primary focus of the internship. No intern wants to sit around and make copies and stuff envelopes nor will they be bragging about that on their resume. They want the experience they can put on their resume and walk away knowing it helped the organization. When considering an intern, focus your internship on that project or two. Great projects (especially for the fundraising departments!) for interns that can be ongoing for any nonprofit include collecting stories, special event logistics creating manuals, social media audits, donor surveys, prospect research and so much more. Just think of something that you wish you could do and explore if an intern can do it!   

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Give ownership and opportunities for feedback. New trends show that young professionals are entrepreneurial and want to take ownership of projects and initiatives. Let them! Let them set goals, a strategy, and a plan. Don’t micromanage them. Let them take it the way they envision it. Of course, create a plan for feedback and support. Weekly meetings are usually good and tell the intern to create the agenda for those meetings. Let them figure out what they need help with - just make sure to ask coaching questions that let them figure out solutions if they can’t figure it out themselves.   

Create opportunities for professional development. Internships are learning opportunities, not free labor. Make sure you include professional activities in the internship. I think creating a simple professional development plan for the internship with some measurable goals are a good way to start. Once a plan is in place, then identify ways you can help them. Let the intern drive what they want to get out of it. Let them do informational interviews with other staff members, encourage them to read blog posts and newsletters, let them know about free webinars and programs. Empowering the intern to let them know how to grow will lead to a productive and valuable experience for you and them.     

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As you can tell, I think all nonprofit organizations should be utilizing interns. Without my several internships, I wouldn’t be where I am today and passionate about making sure other people get similar experiences as me. Interns can have triple the impact beyond just your organization. You can help them personally grow into a stronger nonprofit leader. You can improve an area of your organization and ultimately your mission. Lastly, you can help grow the talent pipeline for the nonprofit sector. More leaders in the nonprofit sector mean we can accomplish a lot more and strengthen our communities.
Posted by Jonathan Richardson on Jul 24, 2017 11:27 AM America/New_York

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Great article, Jonathan!  I'm sending my Executive Director a copy.  I'm new here so I don't know if they've used interns in the past but after reading your post, I agree that they should!
  • Posted Thu 30 Nov 2017 09:58 AM EST
That's awesome, Barb!
  • Posted Sun 03 Dec 2017 10:53 PM EST
This is a great post. We are just stepping into our recent 501(c)3 status so this information is very helpful. Interns are a great resource and so eager to learn and succeed. 
  • Posted Tue 01 May 2018 02:13 PM EDT
Interns are inspired by the work we do and become advocates for our mission. Many of our interns have become full-time employees.
  • Posted Tue 05 Jun 2018 11:38 AM EDT
I enjoyed reading the challenges in this article. Thanks, Jonathan! It would be great to see some more "best practices" content here about interns.
  • Posted Thu 21 Jun 2018 05:31 PM EDT
Great article. Thanks, Jonathan for posting! 
  • Posted Fri 10 Aug 2018 01:32 PM EDT