Growing Capacity by Using Interns


One of the most effective and cost-efficient ways to increase your organization’s capacity is to implement an internship program. Interns are students – high school, college, or graduate – who work for low or no pay in exchange for gaining practical work experience.

Gone are the days when a diploma or degree guaranteed a graduate a job. Today, companies look for students who have also amassed quality work experience prior to graduation. As a student, internships offer an opportunity to understand what they can expect in the “real world.” As an employer, internships are a great way to test prospective future employees before hiring them. And, even if you have no permanent positions available, using interns can help a start-up or nonprofit complete projects or tasks that might otherwise be deferred. An effective Internship program requires effort from not only the intern, but also the nonprofit. The guidelines below can help you and your interns get the most from the experience.


    • Define the activities for which you will use an intern. Just as when hiring an employee, create a job description that includes expectations – including number of hours and key responsibilities – for the position.
    • Interview prospective interns to assess fit with both the job and culture of the organization. The best internships are coveted positions, so you should be selective when determining who will become part of your team. Make sure both parties agree on the objectives of the internship and how they will be measured.
    • Though interns may be unpaid, they should be treated as an extension of your staff. Ensure your interns are aware of how their efforts contribute to the success of the organization as a whole. Most importantly, treat them with respect.
    • Interns are seeking to gain experience, so they will require supervision and coaching. Set aside time on a regular basis to meet with your interns to review their progress, answer questions, and provide both positive and constructive feedback.

Properly managed, interns can greatly increase the amount of work your organization can handle. And, ideally, your next great employee will come.

Ruth Peebles, President of The INS Group, offers 25 years of experience in the nonprofit management. The INS Group is a national consulting firm that provides organizational development and capacity building services to nonprofits, government agencies and faith-based institutions. Services include grant writing, grant research, strategic planning, strategic fund development planning, succession planning, executive coaching, and board training and board development. Ms. Peebles can be reached at [email protected].

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