Oct 10

Establishing an Internship Program for Nonprofit Organizations

College students look for internship programs

Setting up an internship program for your nonprofit organization gives you and the intern valuable experience.

You have the opportunity to train the next generation why nonprofit organizations are important for the greater good of society.

The interns learn valuable skills. At an organization with a vibrant internship program, the interns learn different skills based on their background and desires to help.  The chamber ensemble provides opportunity for musicians and non-musicians to participate in an internship program. One team of interns may learn how to produce programs, prepare for musical performances, handle multimedia and social media from experts in the field. They will see first-hand how a Twitter campaign for a performance draws audiences. And the organization gains new perspectives as well as good will ambassadors back on the campuses. A quality internship program gives your project management group a boost in finding new talent, while providing project help. If the intern had a great experience, word of mouth advertising among their peers about your company will help draw more talent and perspectives to your group.

Safety note: Always check with an HR expert and/or attorney to see if your state has any special guidelines or requirements that you must follow. As with all regulations, find experts to help you set up a quality program the right way. Employment laws and regulations vary by place.

How Long is an Internship?

Most internships follow university academic calendars. Traditionally, internships last between three and six months. They usually start at the beginning of a class period. Companies may offer extensions if the project delivery experiences delays. Many companies design 3 month intern projects with plenty of training, experiential opportunities with staff members, and presentation experiences.

Do I Have To Pay the Intern?

Recently, more organizations and companies started offering unpaid internships. As a simple rule of thumb, unless your organization is a legitimate nonprofit 501C3, set aside funding to pay the intern. The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act applies to all companies with 2 or more employees and annual sales of $500,000. If the internship is for a learner or trainee as defined by the FLSA, then there is an option to offer an unpaid internship. In general, if the internship primarily provides training to the student and benefits the student, doesn’t displace an employee, has no job guarantee, it’s understood that no compensation is available, and the employer doesn’t gain an immediate advantage, THEN the organization may offer the internship without pay. Naturally, it’s more complex than that.
The complete test for unpaid interns is available on the Department of Labor\’s website. If the organization meets all the factors in the test, an employment relationship does not exist under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions do not apply to the intern. This exclusion is necessarily quite narrow because the FLSA’s definition of employee is very broad.

How Much Should I Pay The Intern?

Most organizations pay interns hourly, even if the university issues class credit to the student. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) created the following matrix to help set the hourly wage. Consider the academic workload as well as the other obligations many college students hold when scheduling work time for the intern. According to the NACE, few employers offer comprehensive benefits to interns. Employers often offer limited benefits (participation in company events, discount programs offered to employees, etc.) while the intern is participating in the program.

Level In University Pay Rate
Freshman 60% of new graduate
Sophomore 67% of new graduate
Junior 75% of new graduate
Senior 80% of new graduate
Graduate Student 75% of new graduate (advanced positions)

Do I need a Job Description for the Internship?

Well-designed internship jobs attract the best student applicants. An intern should receive meaningful projects allowing them to tie classroom theory to learning skills that could be transferred to other job experiences. The internship structure provides a legitimate learning experience benefiting the student as well as the employer. While filing, faxing and shipping compose parts of every job, focus the internship on meaningful projects and activities that would look good in a job portfolio when the intern completes their rotation. The internship job description mirrors a regular job description, with a few minor variations. Universities may impose other requirements on employers for internships where students earn university credit. In general, the internship job description covers:

  • A company and department overview
  • Departments/services/products/areas requiring intern support
  • Duration of the internship
  • Majors or class experiences tying closest with the role
  • Skills and experiences the intern may gain from the role
  • Skills and experiences successful interns should bring the role
  • Outline the orientation, mentoring, and training offered
  • The application, interview and selection process and timeline
  • Compensation

Recruit the Interns!

Work with each university to decide the best time to start the interview process for an internship. Work with the campus placement offices (as available) to find the best times to post and interview intern candidates. If the company requires background checks of all volunteers, contractors and employees, leave enough time for all needed tasks, including offering the job in time! If this represents a new working relationship with a university, work with faculty members to design specific learning objectives for the students based on the projects being assigned for the internship. The faculty members may also be able to help find candidates who should apply to interview for the internship.

Supervise and Mentor the Interns

The internship provides many students with their first experience with corporate life. The intern manager needs to consider this when supervising and coaching the intern. Interns may find workplace cultures challenging and new. Meet with the interns regularly to give feedback on their progress. The meeting should include

  • Status report on the project
  • Question and answer time
  • learning how the project contributes to the customer, organization, and process
  • Receive feedback on what did work
  • Receive feedback on what didn’t work
  • Ask about perceptions and ways to improve the process
  • Review the upcoming work

If an intern did something good or veered off track, provide immediate feedback. The intern will benefit having time to make any corrections as well as know what good looks like. They also may not know what good looks like. Let them know! While the project provides a platform for learning skills, many interns learned the most from navigating political situations and making decisions.

Provide Formal Feedback

While each intern should receive informal feedback and coaching, they also need to receive formal reviews, especially if the university offers course credit for the experience. Provide a review at the midpoint of the project and at the end of the project. If the team planned a formal project presentation, consider inviting the extended team to attend. Remind the intern to keep copies of their reviews to use in their interview portfolios.

University or Community College?

Selecting what colleges and universities to work with depends on your organization. If your organization creates artwork, then working with an arts program or schools with arts programs makes sense. If your group performs chamber music, working with top musical programs makes more sense. If the internship stresses marketing or advertising, consider universities with strong programs that also stress the nonprofit sector. Positioning an internship correctly results in better candidates and better internship experiences.

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