June 4, 2012

Whatever area of your nonprofit that needs help – whether it’s accounting, program development, evaluation, marketing or direct client assistance – a college intern can provide a desperately needed extra pair of hands.

college intern

An intern’s willingness to take on lesser, novice tasks frees up your staff to concentrate on more important priorities. And, students at the master’s level may be available to do a research project for you that would normally cost tens of thousands of dollars. At that level, students are looking for projects tied to class work or for thesis subjects.

For example, teams of MBA students from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School will prepare marketing and strategic program plans for nonprofits.

The best way to proceed is to determine exactly how many interns you need and where you need them. Then research local colleges and universities to find a fit. A career center is a good place to start, or cultivate a relationship with the appropriate department.

For example, the College of Housing and Consumer Economics at the University of Georgia requires students to do internships as part of their course work. Students spend a set number of hours working free for a business or nonprofit and write a paper detailing their learning for academic credit. Intern programs provide unparalleled opportunities for students and can result in permanent employment after graduation.

When University of Georgia student Tara Gray accepted an internship for the nonprofit ACE, she wasn’t aware it would change the whole course of her career. “It was the first real-life experience I had with financial literacy,” she said.

Now she is a graduate student studying financial literacy and plans to spend her career counseling low-income families in money management. After her internship ended, Gray was hired by ACE part-time to help design and evaluate a new program, another career-building move. ACE has also hosted interns as junior small business loan officers, accounting assistants and social media specialists.

To find an intern, you will need to write a description of your internship opportunity. It should include academic outcomes such as learning how to use accounting software while performing hands-on fund accounting. If you have a particular research need or organizational challenge you want the intern to tackle, mention it.

Understand, though, that even if the work is free, running an intern program will cost you in effort and staff time. You will need to interview and select the interns and, once they are on board, supervise and sign off on their work.

But if you choose well, you will benefit beyond mere tasks completed. Students of all ages bring fresh eyes and enthusiasm to your organization.

And you may have the reward of helping a student find a meaningful career path they hadn’t considered previously. Internship programs are a true win-win for students and nonprofits.

This article was originally posted on June 4, 2012 and the information may no longer be current. For questions, please contact GRF CPAs & Advisors at marketing@grfcpa.com.