Kelsie Overton formerly ran a program at the Alabama Association of Nonprofits that matched interns with nonprofit organizations seeking Accreditation with the Standards for Excellence. She is now a litigation associate practicing at Bradley. She recently shared her experience with the Institute.
When I was working at the Alabama Association of Nonprofits, our CEO, Shannon Ammons, noticed a barrier for many nonprofit organizations. Though they wanted to become accredited with the Standards for Excellence, they didn’t have the resources to apply. An internship program we developed helped solve that problem.
Undergraduate and graduate students who were selected into the internship would rank a small pool of nonprofits who had already submitted the documents needed for the application. We would match the students with the nonprofits according to their preferences.
The interns would be provided sample, redacted documents that served as examples of what the application was looking for. Every week, we held office hours to review whatever topic (i.e. program evaluation) the interns would be focusing on at their respective nonprofits. We would flag issues and strategize possible roadblocks, so they were set up for success when they went in for their interviews. The interviews that interns conducted were with different members of the organization who had information on whatever topic was being covered by us that week. For example, if we were focusing on how political activity relates to the Standards, the intern would speak to the person focused on advocacy at the organization. After the interview, they would draft the narrative part of the application. If the nonprofit didn’t already have the relevant policy for that topic, the intern would write a sample policy for them.
This was a great program because it benefited both the nonprofits and the students. By the time the semester was over, the nonprofits would have their Standards for Excellence application completed by a fresh set of eyes, dedicated only to that project. Not only that, but we got great feedback from our interns. They were able to network and develop many essential soft skills from working so closely with board members, executive directors, and staff of local nonprofit organizations. Since they were working directly with the Standards for Excellence on a day-to-day basis, interns really learned the ins and outs of every possible position within a nonprofit. If they planned on pursuing a career in nonprofits, this was a great way to look at the roles they could take on.
Some interns received an especially great experience. For example, one organization was restructuring their programs when the internship started. The intern working on that Standards application was a brilliant writer and ended up writing many of the programs for the non-profit – a once in a lifetime experience for a sophomore in college!
It can sometimes be difficult to create and run an internship program that is mutually beneficial for the organization and the intern, but laying the groundwork beforehand allowed for all parties to find success.