What to Expect When You're a Nonprofit Intern

Even before starting college, I was constantly reminded of the importance of having an internship because many employers look for real-life experience when hiring after graduation. Having always worked at for-profit companies, I did not know what to expect when beginning my internship at Alliance for Better Nonprofits (ABN), a nonprofit organization that provides training, consulting, and resources to other nonprofits in East Tennessee.

While for-profits and non-profits both aim to achieve goals of growth and success, I have come to understand how they greatly differ from one another as well. After only having interned for a short time at ABN, I’ve learned these five concepts that are important to know before interning for a nonprofit organization:

1. If you are able, be okay with not getting paid. Nonprofits work within a very tight budget and oftentimes cannot allot any of their money towards paying interns. I have learned that those who work for nonprofits truly believe in the organization’s mission and work incredibly hard to keep it growing successfully. The same dedication and effort are needed when you’re an intern, even though there is not that financial aspect to motivate you. I have learned to not only work hard for myself, but to want to work hard for the good of the organization as well.internship.jpg

​2. Believe in your organization. As I said above, interns often do not get paid so there is not that motivational push of receiving a paycheck for your work. Having said that, I have learned that when it comes to being an intern, it helps to truly believe in the mission and vision that drive the organization. If you do, your work feels even more rewarding because you know that even the simplest of tasks are beneficial to your coworkers and the nonprofit. I can see how much effort my coworkers put into their work, which makes working on a task they ask me to do even easier and more fulfilling.

3. Learn to adapt. When you’re an intern for a nonprofit, you may not know what tasks you will be working on before you come in. Almost every day has been something different and has required me to be flexible and learn new things. As an intern, it is vital to be able adapt to these situations because the tasks your coworkers assign to you are important and valuable, no matter how small.

4. There is no such thing as a stupid question. As I previously stated, interns at nonprofits are thrown into many different situations and can be given new tasks almost every day. That being said, do not be afraid to ask questions. Your coworkers understand that the tasks they assign to you may be something you have never done before; they have been in your position and are there to help. Internships are also for the experience, so you should ask even the simplest of questions to help with your personal growth. It will also most likely save you time and patience in the long run in case you did not do it correctly the first time.

5. Don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone. Internships are a great experience to apply what you learn in school to real-life tasks. Interning for a nonprofit has made me feel even more able to take risks and go outside my comfort zone. I have always felt very valued and appreciated at my internship, which has allowed me to feel more confident and comfortable when performing new tasks outside of the nonprofit.

Since starting my internship with ABN, it’s clear these five concepts are important to understand before accepting an intern position. Overall, I believe that nonprofit organizations can have a healthier work environment because they work incredibly hard, often with a small staff, and rely on each other for support. I’m learning many important things about nonprofit organizations from my internship at ABN and am very grateful for the opportunity I have been given.

966 Madison Mays is currently a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she is studying advertising in the College of Communications. She plans on minoring in business and psychology to enhance her major. Madison has lived in Maryland her entire life, but has grown to love Tennessee so much that she plans to stay here after graduation.