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Taking the Road Less Traveled: Nonprofit Internships

nonprofit internship
Menlo College
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Published on April 13, 2015

If you are a business major, it’s easy to get drawn into imagining yourself as an intern at Google or with a prestigious firm on Wall Street. The reality is that most big name corporations have highly selective internship and employment programs. By one estimate, you would have a better shot at gaining admission to Stanford or Harvard than you would at scoring a job at Google. What other options are available to business majors as the competition for plum internship positions and jobs becomes more intense?

Nonprofit internships are often overlooked as an excellent way to gain transferrable skills and work on substantive projects that you can own. Let’s debunk some of the common myths about interning with a nonprofit:

Myth #1: Having a “big name” company on my resume is the best way to get a job when I graduate.

Reality:  While interning with a top company will certainly get the attention of prospective employers, at the end of the day, they are more interested in what you have actually accomplished. Your past performance is the best indicator of the value you can bring to a prospective employer. Because many nonprofits have limited human and financial resources, interns are often able to manage major projects that communicate a high level of responsibility on resumes. Being able to say that you implemented QuickBooks in your organization, coordinated a fundraising event that raised $500,000, or designed and launched a nonprofit’s website that increased volunteer applications by 15 percent, can provide evidence of your strong project management skills. Projects of this scale and level of responsibility are typically not offered to interns in larger corporations.

Myth #2: Interning with a nonprofit means that I will be working for free.

Reality: While a number of nonprofits do not have the resources to pay volunteer interns, internship offices are seeing a trend in more nonprofits offering hourly wages or stipends to their interns. In part, nonprofits are building internships into their budgets as they realize the value that interns can bring. In addition, many nonprofits are able to use grant funding to hire interns for special projects.

Myth #3: As a business major, I should intern in a “real” business.

Reality: There are over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the U.S. Together these organizations employ 8 percent of our workforce and account for over 5 percent of the U.S. Gross National Product. Business majors can find internships in nonprofits in areas ranging from IT to marketing to finance. Do you know what the NFL, New York Stock Exchange, Princeton University, and American Red Cross all have in common? They are all nonprofit organizations.

A frequently overlooked benefit to interning with a nonprofit is the opportunity to be part of an organization that has social impact. Imagine the potential rewards of interning for an organization that measures its bottom line not just on its financial impact, but also on the impact it has on society. Another benefit to consider is that interns in nonprofits often have the opportunity to interact with board members, some of whom might have influential leadership positions in corporations and can help you expand your network. Opening your internship search to nonprofit organizations might benefit you in ways you never expected.

Angela Schmiede is Dean of Academic & Professional Success at Menlo College, a small, private business college located in Silicon Valley. She has over 20 years of experience designing and leading experiential learning programs, and has taught at Vanderbilt and Stanford Universities.

Menlo College

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