College / Intern Diaries

What I Learned From Interning at a Non-Profit

The first and only internship I’ve held was as a communications intern at a national non-profit in D.C. For the purpose of not appearing as to represent the organization, I will not name it, but I have nothing bad to say about this non-profit in particular. It is a wonderful organization, doing meaningful work and I praise their mission.

Although I can’t fully speak for other communications internships, I believe that interning for a non-profit is largely unique and separate from them. I was fortunate enough to work at a non-profit that never sent me out for coffee runs, respected my obligations as a student (if I had to leave early for a group project, they would understand) and were genuinely kind and appreciative of my work. Yet, after working for a non-profit for a full semester, I’m not sure if I’m willing to return to one.

As the communications intern, I wrote articles for the website, sent emails out to people in contact with the organization as well as collected news articles and sources that pertained to the organization’s mission. I also did some copy-editing and any other jobs that popped up—at one point, I was collecting information on Spanish news sources as the organization was expanding to include Spanish-speaking communities. I was doing work that genuinely interested and engaged me, but sometimes it did feel like something was missing.

My friend took this photo of me in my favorite internship outfit

I’ve always been a fast-paced worker. I relish in over-packing my schedule, furiously jotting down to-do lists and ticking off each line one-by-one and making sure that I’ve completed several meaningful things per day. However, you learn (quickly) in a non-profit that things can often be slow-paced. I would be given long periods of time to do things—like write an article for the website based off an interview—that would normally take me an hour or so. It was occasionally frustrating to work at a slower pace than I was used to, but it also taught me to pay close attention to detail. In my internship report to the professor whose class would give me credit for my internship, my supervisor wrote that my work was superb and meaningful, but to know not to rush so much as to pay closer attention to the finer things. I have done my best to take this advice to heart; while I’d love to work in a more fast-paced environment, detail shouldn’t be so readily sacrificed.

Another part of non-profits that I noticed is that you may not know what the meaning of your work is. I would help work on media projects, often compiling lists of media sources, or collecting news sources to help give reference, but I wouldn’t see the end of the project. The same with the copy-editing jobs I did. I would edit articles for eventual upload on the website, but I’m unsure if my edits were uploaded during my internship or not. While I’m pleased to have had a part in a good cause, I do wonder about the work I did for the internship and where it has gone.

Furthermore, many non-profits deal in heavy topics and mine was no exception. Although I entered feeling mentally prepared and kept a journal where I could jot down my thoughts about my internship, I still felt emotionally drained by the end of the day, trudging home to my dorm room, with my thoughts racing. I’d often try to numb my mind afterwards with writing or Netflix.

interning pic

Taking a short break to pose for a picture!

Positively, within the office, I was given the opportunity for feedback. My supervisor was always willing to read anything I’d written and I could always turn to her for any advice. Everyone in the office was helpful and even offered to help me with things aside from the internship. At one point, while I was in the midst of applying to be a Resident Assistant at my university, one woman who worked in the office and had been an RA during her college years offered to advise me on my upcoming interview. I can’t speak for other internships in different settings, but I truly believe that non-profits bolster a sort of closeness within the office due to the slower-paced and also due to the often sensitive work that is being done, one that often requires support from everyone

Entering the internship, I had the belief that I would leave feeling wonderfully fulfilled, knowing I’d done something good. However, after completing my internship, I now know that feeling is not as grand as I thought it would be—and maybe that’s a good thing! Immanuel Kant would be proud. However, I now know that working for non-profits may not be the thing for me—though I will likely still continue to volunteer for some! However, career-wise, I desire a more fast-paced atmosphere where I can see the immediate pay-off of my work. For those who like low-stress jobs, working in a non-profit would definitely be for them and, trust me, you’ll still feel good at the end of the day.

Nonetheless, perhaps I will return to a non-profit one day! I did truly enjoy my internship and would never trade the experience for anything. Even more, one day, in a conversation with the president of the organization, I had bestowed upon me very valuable advice about working for non-profits: if you’re interested in working for a non-profit in the future, get private sector experience as well. Trying your hand there will help you accumulate different skill-sets that are important to working at a non-profit, in addition to a passion for the cause. You’ll learn what you’re good at and how you can apply it. Perhaps I’ll do just that and see what happens; perhaps it will lead me right back to non-profits.

Photo Credit: Cover


3 thoughts on “What I Learned From Interning at a Non-Profit

  1. Pingback: Is a Remote Internship Right For You? | Vocalady

  2. Pingback: The Editor’s Blog: March | Vocalady

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