How We Made a Small Foundation Internship Work - Exponent Philanthropy
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How We Made a Small Foundation Internship Work

As one who is not far removed from the trials and tribulations of the modern day job search, I know how much an internship can help guide a jobseeker. I can attribute a nonprofit internship in college for guiding me to where I am today. Furthermore, as a Millennial at a small foundation, I yearn for the opportunity to develop professionally. For these reasons and many more, we decided to have an intern at our small foundation.

Here’s how we did it.

First, we developed a framework to help navigate our intern search and key phases of the project. We determined our ideal candidate to be an undergraduate or recent graduate with:

  • Little or no experience in the professional world
  • Potential for growth
  • Interest or curiosity in the nonprofit/philanthropic sector

Along with these criteria, we hoped to find a person who would fit well in our office, someone with whom we could easily spend 8 hours each day.

Next, we drew up a job description to post on Idealist, a nonprofit job board. We considered the many tasks an intern might perform in our office and thought about how to translate them into a job post. We bunched these tasks into three areas:

  • Project tasks: Research current and potential granting areas, writing assignments, filing, and database projects
  • Learning tasks: News research, trend and field analysis, resume/cover letter updating, and mock interviewing
  • Administrative tasks: Management of day-to-day office systems

After whittling down our candidate pool to five, I conducted a series of interviews and ultimately selected a candidate who would be the best fit.

Before our new intern began, we created a list of goals we wanted the intern to achieve:

  • Make space in our packed file room by eliminating all inactive grantee files and scanning them onto our server. This project would create space in our cluttered storage room and help acclimate our new coworker to our work.
  • Become a student of the field. Searching for, reading about, and discussing news relevant to our field could potentially build the intern’s interest in a nonprofit career.
  • Be responsible for all administrative duties in the office. Being responsible for daily administrative tasks would enable the intern to take over these processes and gain an understanding of an office environment. 
  • Create an attractive resume and cover letter. Critiques of the intern’s resume, cover letter, and interview skills would lead to a stronger professional portfolio.

Though the first few weeks were time consuming, educating our intern on the daily workload and project expectations paid off. Our new coworker tackled some of our “back-burner” projects we had put off, and cut back on the administrative “interruptions” I was experiencing during the day. Most importantly, we helped guide two interns toward careers in our field, polishing their professional demeanor and teaching them skills needed in any workplace. This opportunity also helped me gain valuable supervisory experience, a new skill set for me. Overall, the project has been positive and relatively easy to manage at our small foundation.

How might an intern help your small foundation?

Michael V. Paul is the Program Officer of the Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation. He is an avid traveler, volunteer, and blogger, and he believes in lending a helping hand when one is needed.


  1. Michael V. Paul…hmm. I remember meeting a Michael V. Paul in Europe a million kilometers ago (around 1983) en route to Greece. Would you be THAT Michael? He was studying an architect/designer and we had a wonderful time in Greece. If you are that person, would you be so kind as to contact me? I ended up in France, via Africa, and you can find me on Facebook, under Leisa Jean.

  2. […] college at a small nonprofit (via Idealist, of course), I grew into a supervisory role through the creation of an internship program and the addition of staff. I had done the groundwork and garnered much responsibility in the […]

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