You get what you give: Developing the perfect internship program

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Interns can be your nonprofit’s saving grace or a drain on your resources. To increase your chances of experiencing the former, your nonprofit should fine-tune its recruitment process and develop an official internship program.Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that internships are a two-way street. Your nonprofit is receiving work, research and manpower in exchange for offering real-world experience, professional contacts and some sort of compensation. Internships should not be viewed as a volunteer program, free labor or personal assistantships—they should be similar to any paid employee, with expectations and results-oriented activities. Keeping this in mind will allow you to define eligibility requirements and seek out serious interns who understand the mutual exchange and expectations.

When defining eligibility requirements and creating a job description, ask your team:

  • Where is there a need for interns in our organization?
  • What classes should an intern have taken, or what career path should they be on in order to best serve the organization?
  • What tasks do you need intern assistance for? What tasks can you offer an intern for their benefit?
  • What do you expect of interns on a day-to-day basis? What are your goals for interns and their work throughout the internship?
  • What past experiences, current knowledge or personality traits will interns need to complete these tasks and reach these goals?
  • How many hours work do these needs and tasks entail?

Next, determine compensation. If your nonprofit is poised to offer monetary compensation, work with your local nonprofit association or chamber of commerce to determine a fair hourly rate. If your nonprofit is not as lucky, work with nearby colleges and universities to offer class credit to students instead. Also consider reasonable bonuses such as bus fare or a lunch stipend.

Then, post internship opportunities in the right places. Focus on college and university job boards, a nonprofit association website in your area and, of course, your own website. Job fairs at local schools are a great way to reach prospective interns. Grab plenty of branded collateral material, job descriptions and applications to be completed on-the-spot. Send booth visitors home with a reminder of your nonprofit—such as an imprinted Krypton Pen or Pocket Coil Notebook.

After completing the recruitment and interview process and coming to a decision, devote an intern’s first day on the job to orientation. Welcome them with a key to the office dangling on a USB Swing Flash Drive Key Chain  to store work on throughout the internship, or a Junior Padfolio for note taking at meetings. Give a tour of the building and his or her work space, introduce him or her to staff, show where files are stored, how to use office equipment and discuss duties and expectations.

Throughout the internship, make sure that you and your team create ample opportunities for mentorship and training. While interns may have been hired in a specific department, exposing them to other work can expand their interests or shine light on hidden abilities to benefit your nonprofit.

Also throughout the internship, provide ongoing feedback and incentives to each intern. Address successes and failures as they happen. Acknowledge exceptional work with fun rewards like a branded Koozie Six-Pack Cooler or a Gift of Inspiration Book. Or, at the end of a truly successful internship, provide a personalized Wide-Bevel Walnut Plaque or certificate of thanks in a branded Certificate Holder.

Whatever “thank you” is chosen, it’s still about getting what you give. If your nonprofit keeps this in mind, your interns will likely provide great work and gain experience they won’t soon forget.

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