What I learned from my one-year Internship in Non-profit

And why you should do it, too

When you’re thinking an internship in non-profit, what comes first to your mind? Probably an activity like distributing books to underprivileged children, or running a fundraiser. It’s all there, of course. But don't overlook the important part. However not-for-profit, charity is still a business. An internship there can become an unexpected booster to your transferable business skills set – and still look better at your resume than a summer junior clerk job.

There are certain questions you should check yourself when you’re approaching your employment at a non-profit, such as:
"What skills do I want to upgrade through this endeavor?", "What talents can I bring to the table in my new role?" and which area of a non-paid positionwould be the most inspiring for me? "

Now, with clear expectations, go for it. Main benefit of the intern position is that you get a chance of hands-on work within a range of opportunities. Here's what I learned:

Creating positive change on a budget

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An urge occured for a ball during a lesson in our NGO – and voila!

NGOs need young minds for a fresh approach to SMM strategy, public relations and the act of giving. In return, you’ll get backed up by the trustworthy organization while honing your outreach skills.

I negotiated the co-marketing campaigns with local businesses, for one. Convincing vendors or suppliers to give some discounts is so much easier when it's for a worthy cause. As my communication improved, some companies even got keen to give me supplies and services for free. That was the time for my little happy dance.

Not only this experience is confidence-building, it also teaches you art of persuasion to apply to your own programs someday. You will be surprised at how many creative ways there are to do more for less.

Writing for the Non-profit Industry

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One of many newsletters I contributed to during my internship

Community-based initiatives, be it free meals or books for children, need proper financing. Donor organizations and sponsors provide the funding. But there are thousands of NGOs out there. You need to convince the sponsor that yours is the rightest one to get their money.

This is done through grant applications and letters of outreach. As a writer, I was excited to sneak a peek into this intricate craftsmanship. Just like the academic writing has strict requirements, donations outreach has its own rules and regulations. Write it too bold or too ambiguous, and you lose. What you look for is a perfect balance of politeness and persuasiveness.

Other writing practices in the NGOs include running the web pages and social media, publishing newsletters, drafting reports and public speeches for events. So yes, I whipped up a pretty good writer portfolio during that year.

Teaming up with inspiring people

Internship in a Fortune 500 company and a chance to network there is worth a million. Engaging with people in a non-profit internship is more than that. The folks who work for charities get there for a reason. And this reason is bigger than browsing into a vacancy on a job search site.

These people are bold, passionate, and ready to work hard for the greater purpose. Most of them have amazing stories to share with you. I found quite a few new friends like this. But I also got something priceless. I found a mentor in the NGO’s founder. The guy who has worked in the industry for decades and could teach me invaluable real-life lessons, sometimes even in a harsh way.

You’ll be surprised how many knowledgeable charity leaders actually come from the big businesses. Be it profit or non-profit, at the end of the day it’s all about running a successful enterprise, and you’ve got to be good at it.

Making – and fixing – mistakes

Interns would often make mistakes. Funny part is when they make them because of over-trying. Being a too-eager beaver, I sprawled out of my competency area more than once. Tried to do crisis management with an unhappy contributor, for example. Bad idea.

But non-profits understand that there can be a learning curve for some interns. The employees here appreciate the effort in the first place. They are patient and value hard work. With some guidance, you will get a chance to learn from your mistake, and fix it.

This is a bitter but inevitable part of learning. And it's better to happen in a supportive environment rather than harsh corporate realities.

Networking with causes and organizations

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Establishing partnerships is extremely important for the non-profits

In NGO, when the need arises, you outreach to the potentially helpful person – whoever that might be – and do your best to get what you want. Fancy writing to Oprah herself? In a charity, you can do it every day.

Building the community relations with causes, organizations, and businesses is the cornerstone. While in my internship, I was establishing connections with various people constantly. Local governments, supporters, donors, program partners businesses, service providers, journalists are to name a few. And you guessed it right, they’re all in my personal contacts book now.

Business approach to the charity causes

One year in any business will teach you a million of valuable things. The most useful thing that you will learn in an NGO, though, is that making the world a better place is a business, too.

It stands on mundane everyday tasks, like budgeting, reporting, training, PR, audience research, marketing, and audit. Only if you do it all good enough, you’ll convince people into giving their money to you rather than someone else.

Only what would be called revenue at the for-profits, would this time become a resource for your cause to change people’s lives.

This one-year internship gave me so much more than I expected form a non-profit work. I walked into it expecting to help the people in need and feel good about myself. I went out as a motivated business junior, with honed communication skills and a hundred of valuable connections under my belt. Would I go for it again? In a heartbeat. This business has a lot in it to learn – and you still can indulge in feeling good about yourself.

University of Oregon