Why I’m Thankful for My Nonprofit Internship

Guest post by Dylan Manderlink

How nonprofit internships can be valuable for young people.Over the course of my four years of college, I had the privilege to intern at five different nonprofit organizations, all of whom were dedicated to different causes. From my tour relations internship position at a human rights nonprofit in LA, to my marketing internship at a nonprofit’s national headquarters in Boston, I gained a depth of insight that has informed my career decisions in the nonprofit sector.

No matter how different my tasks have been at the internships I’ve held, with each one I have gained a meaningful perspective on nonprofit work and the impact the sector can have on our communities. Given my young age, in each internship I was given a considerable amount of responsibility and mobility within the organization. I felt valued, not just as an intern, but as a part of their staff and movement as a whole.

Now that I am a recent post-grad working my first “real world” job, I can step back and really appreciate the professional and personal growth I experienced while interning in various nonprofits. Here are a few ways my nonprofit internships prepared me for my post-grad life and first job:

1. Nonprofits understand that time is precious and deadlines are important to their organization and cause. Because of this, I learned how to optimize the time I had. In my previous internships, whether I was there for a half-day or the full 9-5, I knew I had no time to waste. Now, that’s not to say that I felt rushed or stressed out at all. Instead, I felt additionally motivated by the urgency and importance of our work.

2. Nonprofits were forgiving if I made mistakes. My employers would take time to coach me, and by doing so, fostered my personal growth. At each nonprofit I interned with, I felt valued, appreciated and empowered as an employee. I have had several friends who interned at large for-profit companies who felt dissatisfied with how they were treated as an intern. I remember them commenting on always having to run errands, do menial tasks, and not have opportunities to build relationships with the staff they worked alongside. On the contrary, in my nonprofit internships I felt like I was constantly given additional responsibilities. In fact, many of those responsibilities were outside my comfort zone or area of familiarity.

3. I always felt like my higher-ups and co-workers took time to get to know me, my interests and passions, and my life outside of work. I noticed how welcoming, supportive, and empowering the nonprofit work culture is. Now, in my first post-grad job, I take the initiative to relationship-build with my fellow co-workers because I know how important that is in a work environment. I also actively seek areas where I can foster personal growth. I value finding mentors, welcoming opportunities to learn from my mistakes, and asking my co-workers to evaluate my performance.

4. Nonprofits promote and embody the notion that ‘it takes a village.’ I think one of the main reasons why I felt constantly empowered as an intern was because the nonprofit culture understands that each person’s contribution and effort is invaluable. Each employee, no matter your status or job title, is vital in promoting the cause that your organization fights for. Together, we have the power to make a real difference – within the organization, our community, and society at large. In my current job, I try channeling the ‘it takes a village belief’ everyday. I do this by:

  • Asking for help from my co-workers.
  • Vocalizing my appreciation for my co-workers and the hard work they do everyday.
  • Thanking others for their contributions to our staff’s overall goal.

It’s important to remember that we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs effectively without each other. I definitely learned that notion of staff unity from the internship experiences I had in college.

5. Nonprofits value a young voice and recognize the potential and eagerness of 20-somethings. As a recent post-grad, I was nervous about being hired at such a young age, and if organizations would question me given the little experience I’ve had. Even when these job insecurities and worries were overwhelming, I remember how appreciative my nonprofit staffs were when they realized that I was still in college and had so much passion and dedication to social change and nonprofit work. They viewed my age and paired eagerness as a pro, rather than seeing my age as something that signified inexperience.

Although there are many more benefits of having nonprofit internship experience as an undergrad, the advantages and skills I have highlighted are ones that have greatly impacted me in my first job as a college graduate.

The multiplicity of skills and diverse knowledge of the workforce that I have gained through my five nonprofit internships have given me a unique but practical perspective on the nonprofit sector. Rather than experiencing a tidal wave of worries following my college graduation, I felt hopeful, motivated, and ready to enter my first job and start pursuing my desired career.

So, if you’re a nonprofit employee who is thinking about hiring on an intern, I would highly encourage and support your decision to do so. As a previous nonprofit intern, I am tremendously thankful for the personal and professional growth I experienced while interning. The nonprofit internships I held helped inform my post-grad career decisions, and are professional experiences I will always reflect on when looking to better myself as an employee and as a community member.

My charge to nonprofit professionals is to recognize college students’ idealism, passion and fire to spark change. Along with recognizing these things, make room for them to be an asset and part of your organization. The confidence that my nonprofit coworkers encouraged concerning my age, idealism and commitment to social justice, is just what I needed when entering the workforce. This similar notion is something nonprofit professionals can embody within their own staffs and use to inspire young people to get more involved in the nonprofit sector.

Does your organization work with young interns? Tell us about your experiences below!

Dylan Manderlink is a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, Mass., who with a self-designed major, Investigative Theatre for Social Change. She is now a Teach for America corps member, teaching high school in rural Arkansas. She is passionate about working in the nonprofit sector and providing educational opportunities for students to creatively inform themselves and others about social justice, community change and human rights.

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