What to Do Before Your Intern Starts

By Danielle Benson

There is nothing quite like the energy and enthusiasm that an intern brings to an organization. They know the latest and greatest things (beyond top pop songs) and they can help to modernize processes. I have personally supervised over fifteen interns in my career, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes.

I got my first intern when I was just a few months post-undergrad. I was eager and excited to have someone assist me with my job. The first problem was that I hired an intern for the wrong reasons. I had no plan, job description or tasks to assign to her. She was smart, capable and ready to help our nonprofit. I gave her easy tasks and failed to challenge and keep her busy. I was trying to comprehend my own job and not prepared to develop someone else’s role. I could see her excitement fade and her semester-long internship ended in just six weeks. She resigned and found a more meaningful internship.

It was my fault. I will admit that my next intern (I waited almost a year) was much more successful.

My tips to engage and challenge your intern:

  1. Give your intern a task in which they have full ownership. Something that they plan, start, execute and evaluate. You can add small helpful tasks, but one mega project allows them to walk away from the internship with a measurable outcome.
  2. Write a job description and review it with the intern during the interview to see if it is a match. Tailoring and modifying the job description is also okay so you can play to the intern’s strengths. But, each party must understand the roles and responsibilities of the internship.
  3. Invest time in your intern. Interns need a mentor more than a manager, which may require more time. Check in weekly and develop open communication to allow for success.

I feel that in the majority of my internship experiences, I learned more from them than they will ever know. I still connect with many of my past interns and I am so proud and inspired by what they have gone on to accomplish. One is working his dream job in New York City, one is being sought after by several companies and another was so inspired by her work, she decided to commit to the nonprofit sector. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without my college internships and I hope that my interns can say the same thing.

Coming in 2016: Nonprofit Intern Matching Program! ABN has been working with our university partners on an intern matching program for our members. Stay tuned! 

Danielle Benson is Training Director at Alliance for Better Nonprofits. Benson is originally  from Denver, Colorado and came to Tennessee via UT Knoxville where she graduated from  the College of Business. This summer, she will complete her MBA in Leadership from the  University of Tiffin. Before joining ABN, Benson served as Marketing Supervisor for LBMC,  PC and was the Director of Operations for the YWCA Knoxville. She is the past President of  Young Professionals of Knoxville (YPK) and served as the Curriculum Chair for the Inaugural  YPK Leadership Certificate program. Benson serves on the board for the Friends of Literacy, Knoxville Marketing Association and the United Way Young Leaders Society.