Non-Profit Internship Programs Don’t Have to be Scary – Steps for Organizations and for Prospective Interns

Jamayrah Moore

By Jamayrah Moore

As non-profit leaders know, there are countless hats to be worn at most organizations, but only a few heads to wear them. With that in mind, a great way to keep your employees from becoming hat racks is investing in the time to create and implement an internship program.

Internships, especially academic internships, can be immeasurably beneficial to both the organization as well as the intern. Sure, with interns there can be a huge age gap between the staffers you currently have and the interns, as well as their lack of experience, and more. You also need to be mindful of  potential liability issues before you undertake a program.  And while the process may be tedious, with a little up-front planning, the return on your investment will be worth it. It’s an opportunity for non-profits to gain fresh perspectives, scope out future employees, and increase productivity.

When launching this program there should be clear goals. Although an intern’s time is temporary, the more structure there is, the more likely work will get done. Furthermore, do not start a program if your intention is to merely provide interns with frivolous assignments. Do it because you genuinely feel that growth, perspective, and substance will be the resolve.

Here are five ways to help you get started:

  1. Do your research.
    • Read up on why other organizations began their programs.
    • What type of work should Interns do?
    • How have other organizations constructed their plan?
  1. Consult your team (staff and board) and your insurance provider on pros and cons. For starters, see the Nonprofit Risk Management Center’s Managing Interns & Risk: Let’s Dive In(ternships) and Interns: Employee or Volunteer from the National Council of Nonprofits. Also explore the implications of paid vs. unpaid internships and consider whether you are able to budget for paid internships.
  2. Reach out to your local colleges and universities’ Career Services Departments to find out how to accommodate academic requirements. Additionally, ask about possibly hosting a table at their career services fair. Here is a State Directory to get you started.
  3. Draft a proposal that would best suit your organization’s mission, goals, and values. Try not to be too specific so that there is always room for adjustments but be sure to address all concerns that were raised by your team, budgetary issues.
  4. Create a guide to success for prospective interns and set strategic goals that mutually benefit your intern and your organization.

I sought out an internship opportunity at the Center for Non-Profits because of my passion for, interest in, and ignorance of the non-profit sector. In addition to fulfilling my academic requirements to graduate from College of St. Elizabeth, I am the founder, CEO, and director of My Life Movement, a small non-profit based in Trenton serving the underserved communities of New Jersey.

My Life Movement’s 2016 "Coating the Community" Coat Drive. Jamayrah Moore reading to third graders at Trenton’s PJ Hill Elementary School.
My Life Movement’s 2016 “Coating the Community” Coat Drive. Jamayrah Moore reading to third graders at Trenton’s PJ Hill Elementary School.

While I’m happy to have this opportunity at the Center, I feel it’s a win-win for what I can do for them. The Center tackles critical issues that the non-profit community in New Jersey faces. Their latest strategic plan specifically prioritized the need for leadership capacity of the next generation of executive directors, governing boards and emerging professionals, especially women and people of color. And having to qualify as all of those things, I look forward to helping them expand, execute, and tackle this issue head-on.

Additionally, I am social media savvy, an excellent communicator, and incredibly resourceful. As a communications and mathematics major, there are quite a few projects where I can use my skills. I am well versed in writing and editing for convergent media. Thus far, I have refurbished a list of New Jersey media resources, contributed to the Center’s social media campaigns, data entry, data conversion, drafted flyers and proposals for prospective projects for the Center, and finally this blog—by the way, I only come in twice a week, six hours a day.

By the same token, the Center looks to provide me with just as much, and then some. First and foremost there’s professional development; indeed as a student, non-profit CEO, and an aspiring attorney. The Center has my back at every end of the spectrum from their endeavors in advocacy, training, and non-profit development.

With that said, here are some tips for any prospective intern wondering how to find an internship that would best suit them.

  1. Do a Self-Inventory Check.
  • What are my goals?
  • What is my passion?
  • What are my morals?
  • What are capabilities (and don’t sell yourself short on this one)?
  • What or who do I want to become? What have I already done and what should I be doing to get me from point A to point B?

Visit your career services center, also known as professional development center, to connect you with Alumni, local business, career fairs, etc. and for assistance in building your portfolio.

  • For your résumé – I suggest having multiple versions, all of no longer than a page, and using this formula.
    • Create a master résumé to include every job, internship, accomplishment, club, or activity you’ve ever been a part of.
    • Have a career résumé to include only information prevalent to the line of work you intend on perusing.
    • Once you have your master résumé, you can always draw information from it to create another resume for whatever your need may be.
    • Recommendation letters – I suggest having a total of three:
  • One from a current teacher,
  • One geared toward your major,
  • And also one from a coach or someone who does not work at your university or college.
    • Transcript
    • Cover letter
  1. Keep an open-mind, but stay goal oriented. You don’t want to choose an internship just because it came your way. Be sure the opportunity aligns with who you are and who you want to become.
  2. Always apply to more than one internship/job. It’s important to realize that rejection is real and happens to everyone. Sometimes you won’t get your first choice – but that may mean something better is out there waiting for you!
  3. Don’t take “no” for an answer right away. This step may seem a little contradictory to the last, but it’s the opposite. If you have encountered rejection, respectfully ask why. It’s important to know where you can improve and what you can do to improve.

Certainly, landing my internship here at the Center was not easy. Firstly, although the Center had had interns in the past, it was not running an active program. But because I had been determined about interning here, I was proactive: I did my research, attended a workshop, submitted my portfolio, and followed up. Well, look at me now! In just the few weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve learned so much about the non-profit community and I look forward to meeting many of you, the Center’s partners, members and allies, making such a positive difference in your New Jersey communities.

Jamayrah Moore is a community activist, mentor, and a student at the College of St. Elizabeth majoring in math and communications. She is the CEO, co-founder, and program director of My Life Movement (MLM), a youth development non-profit organization in Trenton. MLM is dedicated to encouraging and motivating youth and adolescents of New Jersey through leadership training, mentoring, and community service to initiate the necessary change that this generation is seeking. My Life Movement aims to promote social welfare, general education, and the prosperity of our community. It is a multi-ethnic, growing organization “striving to create a safer environment for our generation and generations to come.” 

As a graduate of the Bianchi Careers in Law program and Seton Hall’s Pre-Legal program, she hopes to attend law school to achieve her goal of having a future career in government. She interned with the Center for Non-Profits from January-April 2018.


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