Career Resources

Nonprofit Internships Are a Forward Step for Any Career Path

Nonprofit Internships Are a Forward Step for Any Career Path
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Joan McLachlan profile
Joan McLachlan April 29, 2015

Nonprofits don't just need volunteers — this growing sector seeks interns, too. Learn what nonprofit internships offer and how to find the right one for you.

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Too often, students looking for an internship concentrate their efforts in the business or for-profit sectors. Many do not consider including nonprofits in their search because they often assume that this sector only offers volunteer opportunities.

Parents and students may not realize that nonprofit organizations can give an intern a rich learning experience. If you’re looking for an internship, there are two strong reasons to expand your search to include nonprofits.

Reason One: A Growing Sector

First, according to The New York Times, while “the overall economy has been expanding slowly…nonprofits have been growing at a breakneck pace.”

The article, called “For Nonprofits, a Bigger Share of the Economy,” continues, “all told, roughly 1.6 million nonprofits employed 10 percent of the domestic workforce in 2010 and accounted for 5 percent of GDP.” While many nonprofits are charities, others include advocacy groups like the Sierra Club, local historical societies and conservation groups, sports leagues, and local theater groups. Many nonprofits focus on their communities and help with housing, youth work, and small business startups.

Reason Two: Important Lessons

Second, while you may have been involved with a nonprofit in a community service program or as an individual volunteer, an internship can give you a greater opportunity to understand and experience the challenges facing nonprofits today and in the future. This is knowledge that you can leverage in the future as you search for full-time positions.

Interns learn how their nonprofit is funded and how to identify and understand the target market. They also gain opportunities to work on publicity campaigns, become involved in the strategic planning, and learn to manage the many volunteers upon whom the nonprofit depends.

Finding an Internship

You’ll be surprised to learn how many nonprofits there are and the wide variety of fields in which they operate. Follow these steps to find the right nonprofit internship opportunity for you:

  1. Do a Google search for nonprofits in your area. Seeing the results will give you an idea of which kind of opportunities you can consider.

  2. Make a list of the organizations that you are interested in and try to identify what they have in common. Are you interested in working with youth in local neighborhoods or are you interested in the arts? Does working with rescue animals appeal to you or do you want to work in the environmental field or conservation? Do you want to work with an organization that helps find and fund small business startups? Or do you want to get experience in the healthcare field in a clinic?

  3. Look at the organizations’ websites and research what they do, how they’re structured, and who manages them.

  4. Compose a cover letter that explains why you are interested in the organization and pair it with your resume. It’s a good idea to mention that you’re looking for an internship where you can learn more about the nonprofit sector and about this particular agency, specifically. This statement can help clarify that you are looking for an internship position as opposed to a volunteer opportunity.

  5. Email your resume and cover letter to the nonprofits you are interested in. Most nonprofits are small, so your point of contact will probably be the director or someone on their board.

An Intern and not a Volunteer

If you are specifically looking for an internship, it can be helpful to create a list of industry-specific skills and knowledge you want to acquire. Emphasizing you desire to delve into the industry can signal to your potential employer that you aren’t looking for a volunteer position. You can then share the lessons you hope to learn in your cover letter or interview.

Here are some examples of lessons you may want to get out of your internship at a nonprofit:

  • Understanding the establishment of your specific organization and how it fits into the narrative of how nonprofits are started
  • Comprehending the structure of the agency and what each of its departments do
  • Learning about the budget and funding systems that allow the nonprofit to maintain its operations and continue growing
  • Understanding the challenges confronted by this specific organization, and by the sector as the whole, now and in the future

Follow Up Steps

Like with any other internship, make sure that you build a portfolio as you spend time at the nonprofit. You may be surprised about how relevant this experience will be to your future career, whatever that may be.

It seems likely that nonprofits will continue to grow and play a vital role in the economy. And now is the time to widen your thinking and include nonprofits in your internship plans.

_Search for internships near you on Noodle, and read further expert guidance about how find the right internship for you._


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