Sophie Penney, Ph.D recently joined us for a webinar in which she explained how to attract, engage and retain students or professionals seeking a career change as interns.
In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:
Steven: Sophie, my watch just struck 1:00. Are you okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially?
Sophie: Yes, indeed.
Steven: Let’s do it. Good afternoon, everyone, if you are on the East Coast, and good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Building Your Nonprofit Internship Program: First Steps.” My name is Steven Shattuck, and I am the Chief Engagement Officer here at Bloomerang. I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always.
Just a couple of housekeeping items before we get started. Just want to let everyone know that this presentation is being recorded, and we’ll be sending out the recording and the slides to you later today. Just in case you didn’t already get the slides, you’ll get them again, I promise. Look for those later on. If you have to leave early or perhaps you want to watch the content again or share it with a friend, you’ll be able to do that. Just look for an email from me later on this afternoon with all those goodies.
As you’re listening today, please feel free to chat in any questions for me or our guest. We’ll see those chat messages that you send in throughout the afternoon here. Don’t be shy. Don’t sit on your hands. If something’s on your mind, let us know.
We’re going to save as much time as we can at the end for Q&A, and you can even follow along on Twitter. You can send us tweets if you’re into that kind of thing. Use the hashtag #Bloomerang and our user name is @BloomerangTech. I’ll be hanging around and looking at those as well.
In case you are having any audio difficulties today, just remember that the quality is usually only as good as your own internet quality. If you’re listening through your computer, we usually find it’s a little bit better by phone. If you have a phone and don’t mind dialing in to listen along, I recommend you do that. Just look for the phone number in the email from ReadyTalk that had all the log-in information.
If you are new to Bloomerang, I want to say a special welcome to you, first and foremost. We do these webinars just about every week, but in addition to that we also offer donor management software, so if you are in the market for that or interested in learning more, you can learn about us on our website. Just go to www.Bloomerang.co. You can even watch a short video demo. Don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to. Check us out. We’d love to talk to you about that later on, if that’s of interest to you.
Right now, I want to go ahead and introduce today’s guest. Very excited to have Sophie Penney, Ph.D, with us. Hey, Sophie, how’s it going?
Sophie: Good. Great to meet everybody today.
Steven: This is great to have you. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. Sophie is joining us from the beautiful campus of Penn State University. If you don’t know Sophie, she is the program coordinator at the Penn State certificate program in Philanthropic Leadership, so obviously a higher ed expert here to talk to us about interns and internship programs.
In her spare time, which is not very often, she’s also the president of SW Coaching and Consulting. Got her own consultancy, does great work there. She has over 15 years’ experience as a front-line fundraiser and has worked as a development director as well. Does lots of speaking and lots of traveling, so it’s really a treat for her to take an hour out of her day to talk to us about interns.
I’m not going to take any more time away from you, Sophie. Why don’t you go ahead and get us started, my friend?
Sophie: Thank you, Steven, for that introduction. For those of you who are on the phone or listening in on your computer, it’s wonderful to meet all of you. While I can’t see you and you can’t see me, I know we’re making an acquaintance and look forward to getting to know you, hearing your questions.
I do want to start off by saying that I am not an HR expert. I am not a human resources person. I come out of development and fundraising. I spent many years in higher education fundraising in small and large institutions, and spent the last seven years, up until about a month ago, working for a small nonprofit continuing care retirement community, where I was their first development director and helped ramp up for their first ever very successful capital campaign.
What I’m going to share with you today comes from my experience in that organization, where I began to hire interns and bring them on board to provide expertise and to give them experience in fundraising and help to grow the next generation of fundraising leaders. The points I’m making today do apply broadly, not just to interns and fundraising, but nonprofit interns in general.
The other thing I would note is you’ll see that the program description, the title says “First Steps,” so I know we won’t cover every possible idea or step about creating an internship program or having one, but it is really important that you at least think about how you approach this. I’ve found that planning ahead was really critical to being successful in finding the right people and a good match and having the interns be able to hit the ground running when they came on board.
As has been pointed out by Steven, look forward to your questions. We may not answer them all during the course of the program, but we’ll have time later on to respond to your questions.
I want to start with a brief poll and just ask you to mention in the chat box here if you’ve ever hosted interns or not. If you did host interns, were they paid or unpaid? We don’t have an official poll where we’re going to be tallying the results, but I’ll be paying attention to that chat box.
I suspect most of you maybe haven’t had interns, but if you have, you may be able to chime in later about some experiences you’ve had and what you’ve learned as a result of that. We all have an opportunity, myself included, to learn from each other.
Where do we begin here? I’m thinking you have some questions, and I’m wondering what you hope to learn today. I see people saying yes, they’ve had interns, no, some of you haven’t, many of you have. Some are saying paid, and some are saying unpaid. I’ll be curious to know in particular what your questions are. I suspect that some of them are things like how you structure a position, what might a job description look like, do you pay them, do you not pay them. I see somebody saying I want to know about how to recruit. We’re going to talk a little bit about that today.
What can you expect from an intern and how can you benefit an intern? I think it’s really important for you to spend some time thinking, first of all, of what you want from an intern. I think it’s just as important to think about what that person is going to take away from this experience. We’ll talk about that. I’ll be curious to know what other kinds of questions you might have about internship. Again, please put those in that chat box and I’ll be keeping them in mind as I go along.
Let’s move on to the next slide here. Let’s talk about why internships. Why internships? I live not far from south central Pennsylvania and it’s not an uncommon saying in that area. “Many hands make light work.” Certainly, the more people you have . . . Often, nonprofits are very small and need some specific expertise or simply have some projects and things that they’d really like to accomplish but don’t have enough hands to make them come to fruition, so many hands do make light work.
Another thing I found in particular with interns is that they can really help fill gaps in expertise, that they may bring a background in publications or marketing, in working with databases or IT, in event planning, and a number of other areas that can be of great benefit to your organization.
I’m going to give examples throughout the program today of different ways in which interns have been helpful, people I’ve worked with and how they were helpful in the organization that I was in. I also think that interns are very enthusiastic and ready to dig into projects.
I see that a couple of you have asked about interns versus volunteers. One of the things I would say is that both can be very enthusiastic, both may bring some skills and some background. Volunteers, at least in my own experience, and others may find something different, is that volunteers are not necessarily looking to build a resume or to employ a specific skill for a particular outcome beyond helping your nonprofit.
That doesn’t mean that they won’t be very beneficial to you and bring that skill to bear, but interns are often really wanting to prove themselves in the work world or be able to create a portfolio of projects that they can show to a potential employer. I think that’s something that might differentiate interns and volunteers. Others who have experience with both might be able to better speak to that than I. I do know, as I said, that interns are looking to learn and gain experience.
I also think that, in terms of our perspective, we have an opportunity to encourage and equip young people to move into nonprofit organizations. The continuing care retirement community that I worked for, for the last seven years, is part of a larger association called Friends Services for the Aging. FSA has had a very robust intern program for a number of years now. One of the main purposes of that intern program is to introduce young people to careers in working in elder services. It’s been very successful in having some people move from serving as interns and college students to decide to move into the field.
If you’re maybe trying to encourage more people to work in the field that you work in, whether it be nonprofits in general or in particular your type of nonprofit, internships might be a way of doing that.
What do you need to think about? I really strongly suggest that you begin with thinking about what you need to accomplish. I’m thinking the broad here, and I’m thinking about goals in particular.
For example, if you’re looking for somebody maybe in marketing, are you needing to increase the number of people who are accessing your services or who maybe you are bringing in as clients to your organization and you maybe have a very specific goal around that? If you work in development or fundraising, do you have a goal maybe focusing on stewardship so that you can increase your donor retention rate of first-time donors or have lapsed donors return as donors to your organization, and you want somebody who can help you create a program around that? What is it you want to accomplish? I’m talking less about tasks than I am about goals.
What timeframe are you thinking about? Do you need an intern now or are you thinking about three months from now? We’ll talk a little bit more about timeframe and some specifics around it several times in this presentation.
Many of you have mentioned that you have interns or have had interns. Some of you pay them, and some of you don’t. In all cases, you’re typically providing people with some experience, some opportunity to use their skill sets. I’m not sure that I’ve seen anybody mention course credit, but working in a higher education institution, I know that some interns do pursue these projects in order to obtain course credit. Some are looking for some form of payment and really need that in order to help support themselves as they get through college. We’ll talk about those different points.
Glad to see that one of you actually says you do offer a course credit option. I won’t get into that specifically today, but that is another alternative to think about.
What do interns want from you? I mentioned it. They want to use their expertise. They want to learn new skills. Often, as I meet younger people, they want to learn about the world of work. They haven’t had many opportunities, maybe a summer-type job, but they haven’t had a lot of opportunities to learn about the world of work, and particularly in a nonprofit.
I’ve met a lot of people who’ve said, “I’m trying to decide if I want to be in the nonprofit world or if I want to be in the for-profit world.” They’re really trying to compare something beyond just what salary will I be paid. I think this is a great opportunity for you to introduce people to nonprofit organizations.
Also, interns have a chance to learn about the world of work in general. What’s it like to work in different organizational cultures? How’s an organization operate? What hours do people go to work? What kinds of things are they doing while they’re there? This is often new to people, particularly if this is their first internship and they haven’t really worked in a professional setting.
I’ve mentioned it before, too, building a portfolio to assist with a job search. One thing I want to mention, in case some of you aren’t aware of it, but I know about since I am a faculty member in an online program, is that many students at many institutions are now building what are called e-portfolios. These are online portfolios, not unlike what you might have carried to an employer in the past with copies of a brochure you created, or not just your resume but samples of products and projects that you’ve worked on. This is often all online now, so students are building these portfolios and telling people about themselves so they can be aware of the kinds of things they’re able to accomplish.
I mentioned that I’m going to share with you some experiences of some of the interns who have worked with me and what I gained from working with them and what they gained. I’m going to start with the first story of the first intern that I brought on board. Michael Barasch was an intern at Foxdale Village, where I worked, as I said, for the last seven years.
At Foxdale, we were going through an expansion and renovation and we were building an apartment building, adding on to healthcare. One of the things that we also had in mind was adding a therapy pool to our campus. Because we work with elders, we knew that aquatic therapy has a tremendous number of benefits for people’s health and it can help mitigate many diseases and really improve overall health for people.
That part of the project wasn’t funded through loans, and we had an idea that we might have a campaign, but we really needed to educate people about what the difference was between a therapy pool and the pool in your backyard or maybe the lap pool at your YMCA, because they are very different. In fact, I like to say to people that if there’s a fountain of youth, a therapy pool is it.
We really needed to tell this story. Michael, who was a major in communications in undergraduate school, and in fact had already gone on and earned a Master’s and been out teaching, decided that he really wanted to be thought to be in the fundraising professions. Because he couldn’t access the intern program at Penn State, having already graduated, he was referred to me by somebody at Penn State who said, “I think this guy would make a great intern for you.” I talked with Michael, I saw that he had some great skill sets, tremendous drive, so we brought him on board.
I’m not going to read everything that he said that he gained, but it did give him a tremendous opportunity, working in a small development shop. I was a one-person development shop person, so he had a chance to see soup to nuts, database, what it’s like to have to enter things, sending out letters, running reports, talking to donors, you name it, we did it. Michael had exposure to that.
It also gave him an opportunity to learn about working within a different type of organization. I really enjoy mentoring young people, so I had a great opportunity to do that with him.
Michael has since gone on. He went to Penn State and was there for a number of years, working in an entry-level position in fundraising. I will say that he felt like it helped him get his foot in the door and I’m thrilled about that, but he’s really gone on and used his skills and his drive to advance quickly through the profession and be very successful at UT Austin.
I want to jump back for a minute and say how do you approach this? I think a needs assessment is really helpful. Somebody’s asking, “Is it okay to have an unpaid internship?” I’m going to talk about that in a couple of minutes. I think it’s really important to do a needs assessment first.
I talked about having that goal at the very beginning, what is it you want to accomplish. To me, the next step is what’s the type of work that needs to get done in order for you to be able to achieve that goal? What type of project needs to be accomplished?
For example, do you need to do something around social media? Maybe you’re beginning to work with Bloomerang, but you don’t really necessarily know how to make the best use of it, and you maybe don’t have a lot of skill or background in databases or other people don’t. Can an intern be helpful to you?
Maybe you have somebody working in direct service in your organization or you want interns in direct service. I know that, in the organization I used to work in, there were interns in therapeutic recreation and some other areas as well, too, within the organization. All things to think about.
I think in terms of timeframe, I’m going to get even more specific now and say that it’s really important to determine how long it will take to get this specific project or activity completed. Is it realistic for the intern to be able to finish it in whatever length of time they have to work with you? I think it’s really important. Is the intern working for a long time, a short time? Is it a few weeks? How many hours a week?
Focus on finding someone who can help meet your needs, but before you recruit, I would say that it’s really important to create a position description. I think we’ve talked a little bit about doing a needs assessment, etc. Creating a position description, I’m not going to go over this in detail, but I will say that, when we get to the next slide, you’ll see that we want you to think about creating a position description for the person.
In terms of that position description, you want to think about the same kinds of things you would as if you were creating a position description for somebody who might be coming into a job at your organization. You want to think about your overall goals as an organization, and I suggest including those in your job description.
I also think it’s very important in particular as you are working with interns to say in the position description specifically who they are reporting to, so that they know who says yea or nay about the work that they do. We refer to this in positions, but not necessarily directly, who might they be working with as well? Will they be collaborating with other people in the organization, whether they be committees, volunteers, etc.?
I see somebody’s talking about capacity building versus project specific. We can talk about that later and maybe you can talk a little bit more, Danielle, about what you mean by that.
In terms of responsibilities, I hear that you should get very specific. I think you want to be very specific about what you want an intern to get done, so there’s no lack of clarity. I have been in the unfortunate position of having to invite an intern to move on when things weren’t necessarily working out. Much like we talk about if we have to keep volunteers on if it’s not working, I would say you don’t have to keep an intern on if it’s not working out.
One of the other things I think is really important that you might not be considering but maybe you have if you’ve had interns, is that you need to make sure that they need to comply with any values statements that you may have or other regulations.
I was working in an organization that was beholden to HIPAA. We had other policies and procedures that our interns had to follow, so you need to, I think, cover those as well. As I said, I really wanted the interns reading and looking at professional literature.
Beyond the sample position descriptions and those sorts of things, I’m going to go now and give you an example of a position description for Leadership Centre County. I am on the board and am the Vice Chair of Leadership Centre County, which is an organization which has about 900 alums. We have a nine-month program that people engage in.
They go through this program, and once a month they come together in our community and are participating in different days, an Environment Day, a Community Services Day, a Nonprofit Day, a Government Day, and having an opportunity to be exposed to a wide array of opportunities to be engaged and involved in the community.
Leadership Centre County has employed interns in a lot of different ways. One specific way has been IT interns. I see somebody else calls their position an operations intern. I think you call it what works best for you. In terms of changing a position description, I think part of it depends on how specific your position description has been and what the situation may be. You might want to put in “other duties as assigned” in your position description line, as many of us have in our own job descriptions.
I won’t go through this whole position description for Leadership Centre County, but will say that it gives you some other ways of thinking about a position description, like specifying maybe what year you want a person to be. Maybe you’re willing to be open to older interns, people who are looking for what is called an encore career, and coming out of the work world and wanting to try a new area. Maybe they need very specific software or other skills, and you’ll see that there’s also some contact information.
I’m going to mention another intern’s experience. Allison Shutt was another intern who worked with me. Planned giving and focusing on legacy gifts was something we did a lot of at Foxdale since we were working primarily with older individuals and asking them to think about their own legacies for their own sake. In some cases, some of them might want to include our organization or another nonprofit in their estate plans.
Allison helped give shape and form to a document I wrote about how one goes about estate planning. She brought great design skills to that process, ones that I just definitely didn’t have, and produced a terrific document. It was very helpful.
I see somebody’s asking about this versus heavy lifting, and I’ll talk about that.
This was a very specific project. I wasn’t asking Allison to take on the world or create this document from scratch. Nor did Michael create the video from scratch. I wrote that script, I gave him guidance about who to include in that video and how the video might progress. In the case of Allison, I gave her much of the text that she needed to use to design that piece. I think that’s the kind of thing that was something that was specific enough that she could accomplish it.
You’ll see a number of the things Allison learned. Really, in particular, she was trying to decide if she wanted to be in a nonprofit sector, and it’s helped her understand that nonprofits are all very different. She’d actually already had an internship in a different kind of nonprofit, so she got to see a different one.
You see that she mentions she learned to listen, a great skill that we’re hoping all of our interns, no matter what role they might serve in or what type of organization we have, develop. It also helped her to find solutions to problems and she had a chance to feel she made an impact, and she did.
How do you find candidates? Connecting with local colleges and universities, but I would say it doesn’t even necessarily have to be local, and I’m going to give you an example in a minute. Starting with the career development office might be a great place, or maybe there’s a department or a program that has students doing specific kinds of work.
Penn State, for example, has a College of Health and Human Development. There are people in that college, students who are focusing on working with elders or in other types of nonprofit settings, and are looking for opportunities to use their experiences and find out if this is what they really want to do for the long term. We would often connect with those departments or programs.
I’d also consider the children of your employees or volunteers. I would argue you just don’t want them reporting to their parents when they join your organization.
Word of mouth, for me, actually was one of the best ways that I found my interns. I had a relationship with a development officer at Penn State who took over an internship program that they had at the university for students who were interested in moving into fundraising as a profession. She was the person who referred many an intern to me and where I got some of my best candidates.
Just letting people in the community know, whether it be in your Chamber, whether it be at a university, or other people you know, that you’re looking for an intern might land you the person you’re looking for.
Here’s an example of you don’t necessarily have to go to the institution that’s in your backyard. Susan Knell is the director of the Career Enrichment Network at Penn State University in the College of the Liberal Arts. I would note that this is a college that has 5,000 students in it and part of a much larger institution, so a very large student population. Students are literally from all over the world, many of whom may be looking for an internship experience back in their home community, either over the summer or even possibly during the school year.
Susan has a wonderful program set up where students and prospective employers, and I use that term whether or not you’re paying your interns, can sign up and share information about what they’re looking for, and that helps them match students with experiences they might be looking for. You’ll see what Susan has to say about what students are looking for, and she has some comments about what students can bring to your organization.
You’ll see on the bottom left-hand side that I have provided you with some information about how to connect with that program should you be looking for interns and maybe possibly be interested in signing up through the college’s program. Keep in mind this is a college that covers everything from psychology to health care, communications, to philosophy. It has a business minor, economics, and a wide array of majors.
A couple of other detail things I think are really important is if you’re a multi-site agency, think about at what location this person might be working at. Many continuing care retirement communities have multiple sites, and they might need to think about if this intern is going to have to travel back and forth to different sites. Your agency might either have a home site to do services or provide services elsewhere. Is the intern going to need to be able to get back and forth?
Quite literally, where are they going to work? This was something that we were really fortunate when we did our renovation. There was a space created outside of the executive director’s office. Quite frankly, it really wasn’t going to be suitable for a long-term staff person, but it was a terrific place for an intern to meet.
I think somebody asked me is it okay for an intern to work from home. I think as long as you’re crystal clear about things like the hours, what the deliverables are, so what is it they’re supposed to be working on, and not to mention things like access to technology. If you’re an organization where you need to think about things like confidentiality, which is an important thing, will they be able to have a secure connection to providing work to you, particularly if any of what they’re working on will contain sensitive information?
I worked for an organization, as I said, that had a lot of information that was HIPAA-related. Interns weren’t necessarily working with that HIPAA information, but they could have been, and it could be considered a breach and a very expensive one in terms of fines if we had a breach of somebody’s personal private health care information. You do need to think about that if people are working from home. If they’re working with less sensitive information on a project where that’s not an issue, as long as you’re sure that they’re spending their time . . .
By the way, I just learned recently about Toggl. You could maybe even ask an intern to sign up for a site like that where they actually literally are able to, in fact, keep track of their time. When they start the project they can start a time clock and they can actually write what project it is in that time clock. When they’re done, they hit stop and it creates a report of how much time they spent on it. Technology can be a real friend to you with that.
We talked already about who an intern might report to. In terms of who they might interface with, I’m bringing this up in a different sort of context than I did before, because you might think about if you need to provide the intern with financial or other resources to be able to attend meetings or events or meet with people over meals.
The organization I worked in actually had a meal program. I might ask an intern to meet with a resident over a meal time, and I needed to maybe give them a meal card. If I asked them, as I did all of my interns, to attend at least one Chamber of Commerce meeting so they could get an idea of what the Chamber was about, why we belong, to learn how to network and begin to build a network, to learn how to be professional at a meeting and what it was like to be at such an event, I needed to be able to provide the intern with access to register and finances to be able to do that.
Somebody asked the name of the site for tracking time. Toggl. I actually just started using it myself. Hopefully you can find it. If not, we’ll have Steven get a message out to all of you.
When do you bring an intern on board? My first thing would be when it’s the right time for you. Do it when you’re ready. Also make sure that if you are in fact intending to pay an intern, and I had to think about this at the outset, do we have the money in this year’s budget or not, or do I need to put something in next year’s budget to request payment for an intern? Again, are these other resources available? Can our IT department deliver on making sure the person has a computer?
Do I want interns during the academic year or during the summer, keeping in mind that if it’s the academic year and they’re college students, they may have to balance their academic schedule with coming in to the internship and being able to plan around that? Will, for example, the bus schedule work out for them if they need to take the bus from campus to your site or another site?
Some of us are 24-hour service organizations, and you may want an intern to be involved in service and at your site on a weekend or in an evening. Again, maybe you want them to attend an event. I know that our local community has a very large event that happens every year in November on a Saturday. If you have an intern working for you, you want to make sure that they know that they need to be there on that Saturday. Again, is it happening soon or when is this going to happen?
Again, in terms of timelines, what I have next for you is specifically thinking about a draft timeline for setting up an internship. I suggest to people that you think about things like taking about 30 days to do a needs assessment. It might be longer, depending upon the size of your organization, how much time you have to devote to this.
For a position description, the only reason I say 30 days or longer is it depends on your organization, whether HR needs to be involved, and how many other people need to be involved in creating that description.
Recruiting, I do usually suggest usually about 30 days. You might find someone very quickly, again, through word of mouth. You might find that right person on that first interview, but it might take you a little bit longer. I don’t think it should take very long after you’ve put out an offer letter.
Keep some other things in mind. The organization I worked for, we had to do background checks, even on our interns. We had to leave some time from when we made the offer to before the person started to be sure we could have the background check. They also had to have a TB test, and TB tests take a while to process. We had to make sure that that person could have that test done, the background check, and that they had to do some pre-work training before they came on board.
Somebody’s asking me have I ever worked with an intern program and to bringing interns for a project. No, I haven’t actually run an intern program. I’ve been a person who’s brought interns on board, but I would suggest that you contact Susan Knell at Penn State. I’ve given you information about how to contact their website. She is actually a person who is responsible for connecting students with internships and she might be able to answer questions for you. Also, Georgia Abbey of Leadership Centre County has brought interns on board, but I have not run an intern program.
One more story here of an intern. Courtney Coover worked with us. Again, as I mentioned, a lot of what I did was in fundraising so Courtney was thinking about going into the profession. We wanted to do some things where we really focused more on engaging people and thanking them for their gifts, and we wanted to report to them on how we used their philanthropy. We hadn’t done this, other than using a spreadsheet, which certainly wasn’t very exciting or interesting to people.
She brought great design skills and helped us to create a piece that was very beautiful and very appreciated. We also had been doing a newsletter, which an outside firm was doing for us. She wasn’t replacing an existing person in our organization.
I think it’s an important thing to point out is that you do need to think about things like Fair Labor Standards and other sorts of things when it comes to pay. You don’t really want to be replacing an existing job with an internship because you could find yourself in some Fair Labor issues.
Steven’s going to send you some information about the Fair Labor Standards Act Fact Sheet 71 that relates to this. Nonprofits aren’t beholden to Fair Labor Standards, but you should be aware of them, and some HR people suggest that you do follow them, even if you’re a nonprofit.
Courtney was providing services we couldn’t provide ourselves. Our one person who had skill in design was focused on marketing. She helped create a newsletter template and helped save us a lot of money over time.
She learned a lot of things as a result of that, and it really helped to lay the groundwork for her, for that first job that she got, working in the events department at Penn State in fundraising.
My question to you now is are you feeling better prepared, if you haven’t brought interns on board, to do this? If you have brought interns on board, has this been helpful to you? Really, we’re going to leave lots of time for questions. Please put them in that chat box because that’s the only way that we can know what you’re wondering about. Glad to see that some people have said, somebody said maybe this has helped. Other people are saying yes. Please, ask your questions because we’re here to help as much as we possibly can.
Steven: We’ve got a lot of questions. Sophie, is it okay if I start throwing some your way?
Sophie: Absolutely. Please do.
Steven: I’ll just start at the top here with Susie. Susie’s got a question. She says, “When choosing an intern, how important is it to get someone that is really interested in your field versus just taking sort of a best athlete available in the draft and hoping that the internship will just fit their skill set?”
Sophie: I maybe would consider applying something that my predecessor when I was director of development in the College of Liberal Arts said to me about hiring staff, which is that you can’t teach passion.
I think what you might think about is if this person cares about the kind of work that your nonprofit does. They may not have as a skill set to do the work yet, but they are really passionate about working with elders, they’re really passionate about providing healthcare to people who can’t afford it, or they’re really passionate about providing leadership education. Those things can’t be taught. Many of the other things that you’re doing with interns can be taught, so I think that’s my best advice on that front.
Steven: Makes sense.
We’ve got some great ones here. Here’s one from Devon. Devon’s wondering how you should structure intern engagement differently from volunteer engagement, or should they even be structured differently?
Sophie: This is purely from my own perspective and others may want to chime in here, but from my perspective I think you want to be crystal clear in both cases about what the kinds of responsibilities are. What’s the type of work you want people do to? What are the skill sets that you hope they’ll bring?
I think where volunteer experiences can become challenging is when it’s just not clear and a person comes to us and says, “I just want to help and I want to do good.” We don’t make it clear enough to them what kind of help we need, what kind of skill sets we’re inviting them to employ in our organization, how much time we need, when we need them to be there, etc. Then we’re not maybe always making the best use of their time.
I think that I would try to make sure that there’s really some structure around both that creates clarity. There’s increasing evidence that shows that the more clear volunteers are about the roles they play, the more likely they are to have great experiences and be really excited about what they’ve done. You’ll probably have a better experience as well.
Steven: Here’s one from Susan. Susan, I love this question. She’s a one-woman development team, and she’s wondering do you have any advice for managing interns when you have limited time. How do you juggle internship management when you’re trying to do all the other things that a one-person shop is responsible for doing?
Sophie: That is precisely the position that I was in, so I think it really begins with doing that needs assessment and deciding what’s realistic to expect of an intern, and also thinking about what’s realistic to expect of the time you can give to that intern on that project.
I think that then moves into the hiring process and finding the person who has enough drive and capacity to be able to work to some degree on their own, who you can give some guidance and some clarity to and is willing to ask you questions, but who has enough skills to be able to take a project and enough drive to be willing to take a project and do some of it on their own.
I was really fortunate in that the majority of the interns that I worked with were people like that and who were savvy enough, smart enough, and driven enough that we agreed at the beginning about this is what you’re going to do. Is this doable from your end? Here’s what I can do for you. Feel free to ask questions.
The other thing that I learned, too, Susan, is that I had to also be prepared to just let them take something and run with it and then give them feedback. That’s part of the learning process for them, to be able to say, “Just go ahead, give it a try,” and to learn to let it go and see where it goes. In some cases, those interns took a project to a much better place than I might ever have done it had I given them too much direction.
Steven: Here’s one from my buddy Maggie. Maggie’s wondering what’s the best way to talk to current interns about professional expectations. We’re probably talking about older teenagers and early 20-year-olds. How do you talk to them about maybe their dress, their behavior, without being condescending or ruffling their feathers too much, I suppose?
Sophie: This is a place where I actually would recommend that you talk with your HR folks and find out what it is that you discuss with employees. One of the things that we did as our intern program began to evolve when I was at Foxdale, and there were interns in different areas within the organization, is, for lack of a better way of putting it, to professionalize a little bit that internship experience and to take things that related to the hiring of employees and inculcate them and overlap them with the intern program.
If we had things like a dress code and certain behavioral standards, things like maintaining confidentiality, things about how you interface with clients of the organization, etc., we made sure that those interns would have a similar sort of orientation that any other new employee would have to help them understand those kinds of expectations.
Steven: Makes sense. Here’s one from Laura. Laura’s wondering how you encourage staff to bring on intern to . . . Are more entry level, they don’t have as much professional experience, versus searching for those who maybe have experience directly tied to what you want them to do in terms of a project.
I think Laura’s coming from a place where she sees interns as maybe helping them and educating them and teaching them a skill rather than looking for a skill in a potential intern and then just plugging them into a project.
What’s your philosophy there, Sophie? Is it okay to bring on someone with absolutely no experience and try to teach them up, or would you rather bring in someone that is a little bit more well-seasoned and can get to work right away?
Sophie: I would say of the interns I worked with, only one of them had any real experience with fundraising, so I was more than willing to take on people who didn’t really have a lot of experience or background.
That was one of the reasons why I included that readings in professional literature in the job description that I had for the interns. I really wanted them to understand that they were learning not just on the job and what they were doing there, but if they were willing to learn about a profession and decide if they wanted to be in it, they needed to read about that profession. I did give interns articles to read about fundraising and try to help them understand the work that we did broadly.
In terms of helping other staff to come to that, I think it all depends on how relationships work within your organization. You might ask them if they have had children who are making their way in a profession for the first time, what might have helped them to make a decision, and would they maybe like to help other young people to go through that same progression and help them be as excited about serving in a field as they.
In terms of delivering critical feedback, I see Tiffany has a question here. I think that you follow the same kinds of guidelines you would with any individual who you’re giving critical feedback to. I think you, first of all, want to make sure that it’s specific, that it addresses behaviors, and that it’s not personal. It’s about a person’s behavior or about a specific product that they’ve produced.
This is again why I think the job description is so critical, because you may find yourself needing to refer back to that job description or whatever project you’ve agreed to work on and what the deliverables are so that you can very specifically say to the person, “We agreed on this, but this hasn’t happened,” or, “We agreed that you were going to work certain hours, and for the last two weeks you have not been able to come for those hours. Can you tell me a little bit about why that’s happening? I see this as a concern.” Again, I think you rely on your experience in doing this and you do the same things with interns.
Steven: Speaking of job descriptions, a question here from Devon. How do you address changes in the job description after the internship has begun? Maybe you made some pivots or some readjustments on what your needs are. How do you address those, bring those up to the intern, or mitigate those changes?
Sophie: As I said, I think it starts back with the job description. You may want to have a “other duties as assigned” or you may want to have a line in there that says something like “the potential exists that new responsibilities may arise or that projects may change over time.” That’s one thing I would say.
Another would be to simply have an agreement with the intern when they come on board, sit down with them, talk with them. Say, “Here’s the plan, but one of the things you’ll learn about working with an organization is that plans don’t always work the way we hope. Sometimes we find that there are hurdles we can’t jump over or other barriers or sometimes we do have to pivot. We’ve created a set of experiences, but I would invite your agreement that we may find in a few weeks needing to do some reassigning,” and hopefully gaining agreement from that intern.
Then as that happens, again, reassessing about whether what you’re pivoting to is something that the intern can get done in the time they have remaining to be at your organization. For example, if this is only a 10-week internship and you’re in Week 5, and the project they were working on isn’t going to work out, what are they going to be able to accomplish in five more weeks?
Steven: Here’s one from Danielle. Danielle’s wondering what if the goal is simply capacity building rather than a specific project? She’s a small staff and they simply just need more hands to get that daily work done. Administrative work, things like that. How do you maybe communicate that or do so in a way that would be enticing to a potential intern so that they don’t think they’re just doing kind of gopher work all day?
Sophie: I would say a couple of things, one of which is I would refer you back to that document that Steven’s going to send out from the Labor Department about internship programs under the Fair Labor Standards Act. That program applies specifically to for-profit organizations and it’s actually been stated that it doesn’t apply to nonprofits, but I have had an HR professional suggest to me that nonprofits should consider following those same standards.
In Danielle’s case, she’s saying we just need somebody to get the work done. If you remember, I mentioned Stephanie Hartman earlier in the webinar, who’s working with a smaller nonprofit and she’s doing a lot of work that is simply on-the-ground kind of work that needs to be done.
Again, I think you just are up-front with the intern about “we’re a small organization and this is how it is in small organizations. Your learning experience is going to be to find out that everybody has to play a role in making certain things happen here. While you may have a chance to work on a special project, you might not. What we’re going to be able to give to you is the experience of knowing what it’s like to be on the ground, working in a small nonprofit, and making the work happen.”
I think you just be up-front with someone and say, “Are you comfortable with knowing that that’s the kind of work that you are going to do?” That’s even mentioned in an article related to this, whether interns are paid or unpaid. It’s being up-front with the interns so they know if what they’re going to be doing is filing, typing, answering phones, or other kinds of work.
Steven: Here’s one from Ashley. We talked a little bit about professional development for the intern and making sure the internship benefits them. Ashley is wondering how do you evaluate whether or not that intern is really benefitting and learning and growing from the program? Any tips there, maybe an exit survey or something like that?
Sophie: Actually, when I was working with interns, I just asked them on a regular basis. If I gave them an article or if they were working on a particular project, I would just ask them, minimally on a weekly basis, “Is this helping you? Are you learning the kinds of things you hoped to learn? Is this something that’s giving you some insight into being in the profession?” Just get feedback from them. One of the first rules of feedback is that it’s invited.
Keep in mind that interns, particularly if they are younger and they’re college students or they’re college students who maybe even are older, may still not be comfortable providing feedback without it being invited, so you want to open that door for them.
Steven: I love it.
Sophie: I see Danielle is asking about online resources for evaluation tools. Danielle, I’m not familiar with those. I’d be happy to look through some or ask Susan if she’s aware of any. I am unfortunately not familiar with those.