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Successful intern programs

If your nonprofit has decided to offer internships, you've likely already determined the basic parameters and goals of the program — such as whether internships will be paid or unpaid and how long they'll last. But have you considered how you'll manage your interns? A clear plan will help you set your interns up for success.

Consider these best practices for managing your nonprofit's internship program.

Learning objectives

For you and your interns to get the most out of the experience, you'll need to develop a management plan for the internship program. To start, you might:

  • Create program materials that describe the internship, including big-picture and daily expectations
  • Make orientation kits for your interns to help explain their unique role in the organization
  • Review any existing policies for employees, such as required trainings or confidentiality policies, and determine what might apply to interns
  • Check with your insurance provider to find out if you'll need any additional coverage

Prior to your interns starting work, have them sit down with their supervisors to go over the program materials, the goals you hope they'll reach, and the projects they'll be working on. Also ask what the intern hopes to get out of the experience. Consider having each intern and his or her supervisor sign a document that defines these learning objectives and serves as a contract holding both parties accountable.

Training, resources and equipment

The next step is providing proper training. Explain your organization's mission, your accomplishments and your plans for the future. Encourage the interns to research your organization and explore your website and social media channels. Introduce the interns to staff and share what they do. Then, move onto more specific job training, such as how to do a fundraising phone call or make an entry in your case management system.

Providing adequate training can be time-consuming but will hopefully save you time in the long run by preventing mistakes down the line. Training is also a critical step toward giving your interns skills that are transferable to professional practice.

Supervision

Once you've trained your interns and they've begun doing work, it's important to offer proper supervision. Check in on your interns regularly to see how things are going, assess their workload and, if necessary, adjust their assignments. Halfway through the internship, have interns meet with their supervisors to measure progress toward their initial goals.

If your interns are working for academic credit, you might need to write an evaluation of their skills. Make sure you understand and fulfill any requirements from your interns' academic institutions.

Wrapping up

Remember that while your interns are likely providing real support for your organization, the internship should be primarily a learning experience for the interns. It's your job to consistently guide interns, engage them in projects, include them in networking events and mentor them throughout the experience.

At the end of the internship, provide your interns with a certificate or reference letter. Also schedule an "exit interview" to give your interns the opportunity to provide feedback on their experience. Take any suggestions to heart as you consider ways to continually improve the quality of your internship program.

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Disclaimer

MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

Disclaimer

References

NCVO: Voluntary internships in the voluntary sector (2015)

GOV.UK: Common best practice code for high-quality internships (2013)

Generocity: The state of paid and unpaid internships in the nonprofit sector by Kristen Gillette (2013)

Whiteford Taylor Preston: Interns in the nonprofit world (2012)

Massachusetts Nonprofit Network: Five tips for managing your internship program by Paul Holtzman and Anjali Waikar (2013)

Capterra: How to manage interns to drive your nonprofit's mission this summer by Hannah S. Ostroff (2015)

Stevenson University: Developing an internship program at your organization

References

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