Nonprofit Technology

How to Manage Interns to Drive Your Nonprofit’s Mission this Summer

Published by in Nonprofit Technology

Everyone who lives in the DC area knows that along with humidity, thunderstorms, and tourists, summertime means interns. Interns everywhere.

Aside from being confused by the metro system (stand right, walk left on the escalator, or meet my withering stare), what purpose do they serve?

How to manage interns

No, interns aren’t there to fetch coffee and make copies. If you work for a nonprofit, you know those items aren’t at the top of your to-do list anyway.

These summer internships can be fruitful for all parties involved, if you know how to manage the interns correctly, with the proper strategy:

Set goals and expectations.

A great internship starts with a great plan.

In the interview process, you probably found out what areas of nonprofit work your intern is most interested in, and can compare that to where you need the most assistance. On Day One (or ideally before), have interns meet individually with their supervisors and come up with a general sketch of the internship.

Include the goals you hope the intern will reach, and keep them doable in a 10-week-ish period.  It’s best to have one or two specific projects for an intern to focus on during their time with your organization, which will help to define the regular tasks to occupy their time. An intern could make a great event planning assistant for the fundraising gala coming up in a few months, or writing posts for your organization’s blog.

In exchange for the help they’re providing, discuss what the intern hopes to get out of the experience beyond a line on a resume. Some interns will want to concentrate on their passion, while others will want to get their feet wet in the many aspects of running a charity.

Spell out these big-picture expectations, along with the day-to-day details of the internship: How many hours will the intern be in the office? What will the compensation be, if any? (The National Council of Nonprofits has a guide to ensuring your internship passes legal muster.) Who is the intern’s supervisor and resource for addition questions?

The intern and supervisor should sign this document you’ve created together – it’s a contract to govern the rest of the summer, which makes you both accountable for your part of the bargain.

Prepare them for success.

They might not cost you any money, but internships don’t come without an investment on your part.

Spend the time giving interns complete training so they are best equipped to complete the assignments you have discussed in your internship agreement. You wouldn’t expect a new employee to jump right in, so don’t do the same to your interns.
How to manage interns

Plan for about a week of training, which doesn’t necessarily need to be a formal orientation process. Start with the macro view of their role and get gradually smaller over the week.

Spend a day on the organization, guiding the intern through mission statements, major accomplishments, and vision for the future. Have them poke around your website, recent blog posts, and social media channels. Introduce them to the organization’s staff, and have them learn how each piece contributes to the whole operation.

Once they have a hold on what you do, plus why and how you do it, get them up to speed on the skills and system they’ll be using for their internship. Depending on their duties, walk them through how you schedule tweets, have them listen in on a fundraising call, or sign them up for a tutorial with your donation management software.

Teaching takes time, but it will save you from answering many questions down the road or not having projects completed properly and needing to be redone.

Manage them well.

No matter how much training you give your interns, you can’t just push them out of the nest and expect them to fly for the rest of the summer.

Being a good supervisor (and not just of interns) means checking in regularly to discuss progress, pitfalls, and plans for the future.

If you share an office with your intern, it can be easy to informally see how she is doing. A weekly one-on-one meeting is a great way to find out how your intern is doing on completing tasks, and how you’re doing on giving her the training and opportunities she’s looking for.

Use these meetings to assess how things are going, and possibly reassess workload or goals going forward. One project taking longer than expected? Reduce the duties that are bogging her down. Got a rock star intern who’s done with the week’s jobs by Tuesday? Increase her responsibility – a boon for both of you.

About halfway through the summer, sit down together and revisit your initial contract. Are you on track? Have either of your priorities shifted? Be honest, and don’t be afraid to make changes.

Give them meaningful work.

interns filler2 copy

Interns who become invested in the organization where they’re working will work harder and produce better results. Value them, and they’ll add value to your nonprofit.

We’ve already established that coffee runs aren’t a good use of interns, but neither are licking envelopes or folding t-shirts. Since you’ve put in the time to make them knowledgeable, skilled members of your team, you can treat them as such.

It can be scary, but let them take the reins on the projects where they are playing a large role. Continue to check in, and check their work, but allow them to take ownership and you’ll see them thrive.

Along the way, show them the difference they are making. Share the kind words of a donor, or how many impressions their latest tweet got. And, perhaps the most important, say “thank you.” And, “We couldn’t do this without you.” Because it’s true.

Go beyond the job.

If your development intern shows a flair for graphic design, encourage that initiative. If she wants to shadow your communications manager, that’s great too.

An internship is an excellent way for students to try on different occupations before they enter the workforce. For you, it’s the chance to inspire them to continue in the nonprofit sector, so give your interns access to different parts of a nonprofit to see what clicks and what might spark a career.

Encourage interns to build relationships with staff members – they’ll prove beneficial when it’s time to job-hunt, whether it’s at your organization or elsewhere. Take them to networking events outside the office, and introduce them to your peers at other groups who can help them along their journey.

You’ll build a long-term relationship between the intern and your organization, in addition to the nonprofit sector as a whole.

How to manage interns


How are you managing interns this summer? Got any more advice for a successful season? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Images by Abby Kahler

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About the Author

Hannah S. Ostroff

Hannah S. Ostroff

Hannah S. Ostroff is a writer for Capterra, a free resource that matches buyers and sellers of business software. A graduate of the College of William & Mary, she spends her free time cooking, singing, reading, and watching videos of baby animals.


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[…] “Encourage interns to build relationships with staff members – they’ll prove beneficial when it’s time to job-hunt, whether it’s at your organization or elsewhere. Take them to networking events outside the office, and introduce them to your peers at other groups who can help them along their journey.”  —  Read more […]

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