I have been an intern in the nonprofit world for over a year now and have seen the impact that intern positions can create. Interns are active and curious contributors that desire to excel and to make a good impression. Sometimes their eagerness can be a little disconcerting but here are a few suggestions that can make the process a little easier:

Start off with something that will force them use the resources available to them.  

When I started my first internship, I was tasked to create an “About Us” document for the organization. Because I knew very little about the organization, I thought the assignment was a bit brazen. In hindsight, I realize how useful such a lofty first assignment was. This task forced me to gather information about the organization and deliberate what were key messages and missions of the organization. I learned from the information I gathered as well as became familiar with the informational resources that I had at my fingertips.

The more you invest in an intern, the better your return on investment is. 

Most interns do not have much real world experience. So if you can provide them with opportunities to work and develop real world skills, they will be thankful and you will be able to get more out of them. In my personal experience I have had the tremendous fortune to work on website development and content management for various organizations. These are real world tools that are not covered in classroom material. These skills definitely set me apart from other students entering the job market and made me a useful contributor to many projects. This kind of experience has given me confidence and experience in an area that can actually make an immediate impact in any organization. This knowledge has helped me contribute to multifaceted, ongoing, projects which has enabled my employers to maximize their work potential as well as get the most out of me.

Provide both long and short term tasks to avoid a stagnant intern.

It seems that in every one of my internship experiences tasks have been assigned on an ongoing basis. Ongoing tasks have been very beneficial; they allow the intern to work independently and to avoid asking “what’s next?”  Interns should not need to be held by the hand 24-7, and furthermore, most interns are independent enough to figure out what tasks need to be accomplished. Of course interns can and should contribute to administrative tasks, but giving long term projects to interns allows them to create work products that can have a lasting beneficial impact for you.

So now the important advice: HOW DO I GET INTERNS?

Fortunately there are many available interns nearby; the University of Texas is a wonderful resource for prospective interns and employees.  However there are other universities in the area as well. Most of these schools have job listings where you can submit work opportunities like U.T.’s Hire a Longhorn. However to best way to the interns is through your existing professional network. You will find that through your connections there is usually an intern waiting. Most times a colleague will recommend one of their  own former interns or perhaps knows of a student looking for a position.  If not, do not hesitate to reach out to professors at nearby universities. By searching departments at UT you can usually find a contact email for a professor who teaches a subject related or relevant to your organization. They usually have several students they could recommend and at times would not even mind announcing opportunities to their classes.  

Interns can help in a variety of ways. Do not hesitate to be creative with the role interns can play in your organization. You may be pleasantly surprised at what they can offer to your organization.