We started our internship program in 2010 for a simple reason: We needed help! And those early teams helped in a big way, although the process was not without plenty of bumps and struggles as we learned just how to utilize and empower interns well. Since then our program has grown immensely, and we’ve been able to clarify the roles our interns play and how to best set them up for success. So whether you’re looking into internship opportunities for yourself or looking to start an intern program for your organization, here are 5 things we’ve learned as we’ve built a program we're proud of. 1. Front-end learning is key. We bring in new intern teams 3 times per year in California- twice each in Uganda and Peru. With that much turnover it can be easy to overlook that for each team, this is their first glimpse into the behind- the- scenes of the organization. We’ve put together an orientation process that is thorough and information-heavy, knowing that building a solid knowledge foundation is vital in order for interns to best begin executing tasks. 2. Some of the best learning comes from a little hang time with staff. The greatest assets any organization has to offer interns are its people- their experience, vision and personal journey. Each intern works with a specific role supervisor, but additionally we’ve found that some of the interns’ favorite times are our ‘intern lunches’ with individual staff members. This can be simple- we make sure each staff member take the team out for lunch once. It’s a small amount of time that goes a long way. 3. We exist for empowerment. One of my favorite parts of our intern program is seeing interns realize just how capable they are. Each intern comes into our program with his or her unique goals and vision for the future. We get to provide tools, activities and conversations to help them learn more about their own story, strengths, and passions, and simultaneously support them in real tasks to see those play out. Empowering our interns means giving them direction and support as they take on new challenges, ultimately to feel more aware of and confident in their unique abilities. 4. The best internships are challenging. Good interns are not looking for just another classroom experience. In an internship they want hands-on, real world challenges. Creating a role description that has clear expectations and providing honest and constructive feedback helps push them to the next level. We always want to ensure that interns have a real feeling of team, give them real work, and watch them rise to the occasion. 5. Intern alumni are powerful. An intern’s impact and relationship with an organization shouldn’t end when their internship concludes. Beyond being a valuable pool for future employees, we want our intern alumni to be some of the most knowledgeable, passionate and equipped advocates around. That’s part of the reason it makes so much sense to invest in them while they’re here. We love seeing our alumni take the lead in sharing new marketing campaigns we launch, continue to volunteer their time at events or around the office, connect us with new retailers and opportunities and just stay in touch. As our alumni grow it’s incredibly encouraging to know that they will continue to take us with them. -Nic Lauten Director of Community Involvement
We love to share our story and our model with others. Contact Nic at firstname.lastname@example.org for speaking requests and opportunites to expand on what we've learned and engage with your interns and students. Apply to join our intern program here.