A fundraising intern can be a good way to bring in an extra set of hands and a fresh perspective to help you raise more money for your small nonprofit.
Your to-do list is a mile long and fundraising is just ONE thing you need to focus on. You have an event to plan, grants to write, volunteers to recruit, and social media to stay on top of.
Why not hire an intern to take care of some of these tasks for you?
It’s a wonderful win-win opportunity – you get to delegate some tasks off your plate and the intern gains valuable experience they can add to their resume.
And as you know, it can be tough to get your first job without applicable experience!
But before you start down this path to hiring an intern, there are several decisions you need to make. Let’s have a look at those so you know what you’re getting into.
Paid vs Unpaid Interns
Interns used to be considered free labor.
You could get a college student to give you a few hours a week to help out around your nonprofit in exchange for the hands-on learning they would get.
Now, there’s more to consider.
Whether you pay your intern, which I recommend, or carefully follow Department of Labor guidelines for hiring an unpaid intern, the role should benefit both parties.
If you hire a fundraising intern, you get help with fundraising tasks and the intern gains professional experience that can help them get a job once their schooling is complete.
If you hire an unpaid intern, you should make sure the experience is closely tied to their educational needs and goals, per Department of Labor guidelines for hiring interns in a for-profit setting.
Even though your organization is nonprofit, veering from the guidelines can be viewed as unethical and exploitative and you don’t want that!
When considering bringing on an intern, you should focus on the intern’s career goals and provide them with training and tasks to help them launch their career.
So, while it does help you get more done, hiring an intern should be about helping them, too.
For some nonprofits, this responsibility could negate the benefit of having an intern. After all, you are trying to get more work done, not take on more work for yourself!
A better strategy may be to pay your intern. This way, you avoid any perception that you are exploiting your intern, and you are free to assign the tasks you need done, even mundane tasks like stuffing envelopes that would be inappropriate under the unpaid model, which is supposed to focus on professional training.
Most interns work part-time. It’s common for interns to work 10 hours a week or less. If you hire an intern for a 12-week internship at $10 an hour, you can get help with the many tasks involved in fundraising for just $1,200. And you might have a donor who would cover that cost for you!
If you plan your internship program well, your intern will provide so much value that $1,200 will feel like a bargain.
How much you pay is up to you, but remember that if you want your nonprofit to be mindful of diversity, equity, and inclusion, you may want to consider paying more than minimum wage so that the single mom who is already holding down a job while attending classes finds it worth her while. Or the student who can barely afford school can see the benefit of giving up a few hours a week of study time to work for you.
Once you determine whether a paid or unpaid intern is right for your needs, the task of hiring an intern can be daunting.
Let’s look at the whole process so you can hire the right person to do the right job.
Treat the internship like a job
Interns are employees.
They need a job description with all tasks and expectations laid out clearly. Setting expectations in the beginning is the key to finding the right fundraising intern.
Before you begin recruiting an intern, create a job description. Include:
- Hours: What days and times do you need your intern to be available? You may need to negotiate exact hours with your intern based on their class schedule.
- Work environment: Will they come into the office or work from home? Will they have their own desk or work at a conference table or in a shared workstation?
- Specific tasks: This is a biggie. What exactly do you want the intern to do? There are so many tasks involved in fundraising, especially as you execute your annual fundraising plan. Think about the tasks that someone with little or no experience could handle. Vary the tasks so your intern won’t be bored and will gain some professional experience.
- Length of internship: It’s hard to justify the time needed to properly train someone to only get 12 weeks of work from them. But if you have a few very clearly defined tasks, it’s worthwhile. During the fall and spring semesters, your intern may be able to commit to 15 weeks. You could start with a 12-week summer internship and then renew the internship for the school year if the student is a good fit.
An internship, by definition, is a short-term role. If you want your intern to stay on beyond one year, you should hire them as an employee.
- Compensation: As with any job description, let candidates know how much the job pays so they can determine before they apply if the opportunity will meet their needs. To keep compensation under wraps until you make an offer just wastes people’s time. It is also helpful to specify if the intern will be paid weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or in a stipend at the conclusion of the internship. In short, be clear about what the internship pays.
- Other details: Can the student get course credit? Specify whether you are willing to work with the school so the intern can get credit. If the internship is unpaid, you should take this step.
The stronger your job description, the more likely you are to get to choose among great candidates.
Where to find your ideal intern
As with everything in fundraising, fish where the fish are.
- Colleges: Talk to local colleges about the avenues for letting students know about internship opportunities.
You can contact professors who teach classes relevant to your organization’s work and also to the tasks they’ll be doing. For fundraising, check with professors in the marketing or communications department. Someone may teach nonprofit-related classes. If your intern will be working on social media, try the art department for aspiring graphic designers.
- Digital word-of-mouth: Post the opportunity on your social media channels, your website, and in your marketing emails. LinkedIn is a great place to post internship opportunities. Create a fun graphic for your Instagram account, as students are more likely to be on Instagram.
- Old school word-of-mouth: Just tell everyone you know that you are accepting applications for a fundraising intern.
By casting a wide net, you will get a larger pool of applicants and be able to choose the person who seems like the best fit.
What to look for in an intern
The number one thing you want in a fundraising intern is enthusiasm.
Look for someone who wants to know what it’s like to work at a nonprofit, someone who is interested in how a nonprofit works, and specifically how your nonprofit works.
Many young people want to help others. They want to save the world! When you work at a nonprofit, that’s the program side. The other side is fundraising, and programs cannot happen without funding. Look for an intern who recognizes this and is excited to work in fundraising.
Look for an intern who asks lots of questions during the interview, someone who has checked out your organization by visiting your website and social media channels.
If your candidate has some experience, that’s great, but internships are entry level positions. A candidate who is excited to learn is qualified to be an intern.
The Hiring Process
When it’s time to go through the hiring process, remember you are hiring a short-term employee. You don’t want just anyone in the fundraising intern role. You want the right person.
- Plan ahead: If you are seeking a summer intern, plan to go through the hiring process in April. For a fall internship, plan to conduct interviews in July, and for a spring internship, plan to do interviews in November. The best students line up their plans for the next semester early.
- Identify your top candidates: Go through resumes and choose the top two or three candidates to interview.
- Schedule phone or Zoom interviews: Give each candidate time to share their career goals and what they hope to get out of the internship, and to ask questions about the organization. Make the interview a conversation.
- Make an offer: Limit the interview process to one interview, and make your decision quickly. Offer your top choice candidate the position, and hopefully they will accept. If they have already accepted another opportunity, move to your second choice.
- Let everyone know: Inform all applicants when the process has concluded so they can move onto their next opportunity.
Congratulations, you hired a fundraising intern! You’re on your way to getting some meaningful help.
Preparing for an intern
You want your fundraising intern to feel welcome and part of the team.
- Set goals and clear pathways to get there. Take into account what your intern wants to get out of the experience and what you need done. Set realistic goals. Write them down, and share them with your intern. Post them somewhere so you both can see them.
- Have a workspace ready. Make sure your intern has some legal pads, pens, post-it notes, and other supplies. Put a flower in a vase or add some other personal touch.
- Set up a digital workspace. Trello is a great tool for intern-supervisor communication. Create a card for each task and communicate about the task on the card. Work with Google Docs and Google Sheets so you can collaborate. Ask your intern about the digital tools they already use, and include your intern in communication platforms your organization uses.
- Plan your intern’s first day. Give them a tour and introduce them to the rest of the office. Spend time explaining the tasks that need to get done and the general workflows of the organization.
A good beginning leads to a happy and productive experience for everyone. And a happy intern is an intern that will keep working for you and representing your organization in a positive way!
What will your intern do?
Be clear about what your fundraising intern will do. Nothing is more frustrating for both parties than trying to wing it.
Make a list of the fundraising tasks you want your intern to do, keeping in mind how many hours each week they will be working. In other words, don’t ask them to do a week’s worth of work in four hours! It’s a good idea to start slowly with smaller tasks while your intern gets their feet wet.
- Event planning: This is often an ideal role for your intern. They can be part of a committee and take on tasks such as seeking sponsorships from local businesses, getting quotes from vendors, caterers, and t-shirt companies, and keeping a calendar so everyone stays on track.
- Donor stewardship: Printing and mailing thank-you letters to donors is a good entry-level task for your intern. Run a LYBUNT (Last Year But Unfortunately Not This) report and have your intern write handwritten notes to lapsed donors, inviting them to re-engage.
Have your intern write to all your monthly donors, thanking them for their loyalty. Challenge your intern to source or design the perfect notecard for donor stewarding.
- Partnership building: Do you have a spreadsheet of all your nonprofit partners, the organizations you collaborate with? Your intern could flesh out your spreadsheet and update contact information. Then they could send an email to everyone confirming the information and offer to send them the spreadsheet when completed.
- Database updates: Your intern could search for duplicates in your donor database and merge the information. What other ways could your intern clean up your data? Do you have a stack of returned letters due to a wrong address? Have your intern search for the correct addresses and update the information.
- Creating and posting social graphics: Does your intern know their way around Canva or, even better, Adobe InDesign? Enlist them to help you get ahead on social media by creating posts for holidays, $5 Fridays, and other upcoming campaigns.
Show your intern how to schedule posts in advance. Once your intern learns how to help you with social media, this can be a big time saver for you and a value-add for you.
- Reviewing social media analytics: Do you have time to take a deep dive into social media analytics? Your intern could do so and share some ideas for improving your organization’s reach.
As the internship gets going, you will see what your intern’s strengths are and come up with more advanced tasks that require the amount of training you have time to provide.
Support your Intern
Maintain an intern-friendly workplace by being organized, friendly, and engaging. Interns are seeking valuable work experience. They are not looking to be an assistant to a frazzled boss who complains about how much work they have.
Interns need support. Be prepared to manage and coach them. I can’t stress this enough!
Reward them for a job well done, and offer support when they need it. Ask about their schoolwork. Be prepared to be flexible so your intern can prioritize their grades.
Make time to train your intern and provide feedback and encouragement. The more you invest in your intern, the more you will get back.
Unless … the fit just isn’t right.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things don’t work out. The person may struggle with basic tasks, even with training. If things aren’t working out in spite of conversations and coaching efforts, it’s time to cut the cord. Although this feels horrible, remember that ending the internship is the best for the organization, for you, and for your intern.
Let your intern go with a sincere thank you and a gracious referral.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Working With a Fundraising Intern
Don’t hire your kid’s best friend’s cousin because they want a foot in the door.
Don’t hire someone who would be better suited to general volunteer work.
Don’t expect your intern to complete large and complicated tasks.
Don’t throw your intern into the deep end to figure things out on their own.
Don’t toss a bunch of tedious tasks at your intern.
Don’t micromanage or waste your time supervising every second. This will defeat the purpose of having an intern!
Don’t expect your fundraising intern to fill in the gaps elsewhere. They are there to help you with specific fundraising tasks.
Don’t ask your intern to do more than they can get done in the hours they can give you.
Do hire someone who seems trainable and eager to learn.
Do hire someone with a sharp mind who wants to stay busy.
Do make sure that your intern has fun and feels rewarded.
Do challenge your intern to think independently and be resourceful.
Do hire someone who asks questions about your organization and the people or animals you help.
Do hire someone with fresh ideas, whether you will use those ideas or not. Ideas are crucial for growth!
Do make sure you are prepared to coach, educate, and assist your fundraising intern so that they can be successful.
Do conduct performance reviews on a regular basis so that your intern knows how they are doing!
Do respect your intern’s ideas and participation.
Do check in with your intern often to make sure they are feeling challenged, appreciated, and valued.
The Bottom Line
Hiring a fundraising intern can give you the extra help you need to get your nonprofit to the next level. But hiring an intern is a responsibility, one that requires attention on your part.
A wonderful intern is worth their weight in gold!
To land that amazing intern you have to craft a job description, take time to find the right person, set the person up for success, and provide support and direction.
In return, you’ll get the support you need with the many tasks involved in fundraising. That will help you push your fundraising to the next level, bring in more money, and change more lives.