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3 Things You Need to Know About Interning at a Non-Profit

Emily Kong
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Published on November 12, 2015

There’s a big difference between interning at a for-profit organization and a non-profit. Throughout my internship career, I’ve interned at many for-profits, so interning at a non-profit this past summer was a big change.

Non-profit organizations use a majority of their funds to further their purpose or mission rather than keep it as a profit. Overall, they tend to be giving back to a greater good. Like I said, I was lucky enough to join an amazing team of interns and learn a great deal about the non-profit sector.

1. The first thing to know is that there is an underlying cause or mission, and you need to have a firm grasp on that mission before you do anything.

It’s like getting to know your audience but in a much deeper way– you need to get to know the organization you are working for. That mission should be one of the main reasons that you are there becuase it is why everyone on the team is there.

A non-profit’s mission is so much more than a typical company’s audience or mission. A non-profit’s mission is the reason why employees work so hard on a daily basis– it’s their motivation and purpose. If you ask a team member at any non-profit why he or she works for the organization, there is usually a personal reason or a real passion behind it, and remember that you chose to work at that non-profit specifically for a reason as well.

2. Like a start-up, non-profits’ are usually championed by a small-knit team meaning that it’s usually all hands on deck.

In my opinion, the best part about non-profits and start ups is that you get to do more work than the average interns. During interviews with various start-up companies and non-profits, I am always asked, “If you were assigned a task that is not specific to your department or not relevant to your internship goals, would you take it?” and the answer is always yes. I never just responded with a “Yes” in order to get the internship; I did so because I truly meant it.

I’m all for wearing more than one hat in an internship or a career because it shows that you work hard and are a team player. This is key in non-profits because they typically have such small teams, so everyone must pitch in for some projects. In startups, there is no corporate food chain to crawl up; instead, there is a strong team of individuals who will always be there to pitch in.

One of the most memorable parts of my non-profit internship was the entire staff coming together for the annual mailing for the development team. While it was the  responsibility of the development team to get all of the annual reports out, the entire staff pitched in to stuff envelopes for four hours.

3. Another important thing to note is that you’re working with people who share a common passion.

No matter whom the organization benefits, you and the rest of the staff have some sort of connection to the cause. You have something in common with them instantly because you share similar views and goals. Whether you work for a mental health non-profit or a social welfare non-profit, each person has an emotional connection to the cause. Some people say getting the job is the best part, but for non-profits, the best part is working with a team who shares your dedication to the cause.

The greatest thing I’ve ever done as an intern is work at a non-profit because I was able to learn so much, join a passionate team, meet some amazing people and gain a better understanding for their mission. You will work hard and learn a lot– but it will be worth it. By the end of your internship, you will find yourself not wanting to leave and dreading the goodbyes.

Emily Kong

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