Why Interns SHOULD NOT Do It All

  • by Shala Graham
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Interns need direction and consideration, like any other hired employee
Having interns working with your nonprofit can be a tricky situation. The work of nonprofits can have great offerings and even a great necessity for interns and volunteers for their operations. In the need to get everything done or offer enough work for interns, employers will often send every task the intern’s way. This practice can do more harm then good and have serious ramifications to everyone involved. Including your nonprofit.

Interns are Employees

There are several traditional practices that aren’t always applied to interns. This often seeds issues that arise later for both the intern and your nonprofit. Even worse is that by not handling an intern the same way as an employee, you can limit their potential to learn, grow, and maximize their impact for your nonprofit. The first thing the employer of an intern should understand is that interns can dramatically impact your brand. From there, analyze what truly “just needs to get done” versus projects that require oversight.


The first step in appropriately handling an intern is often the first thing that gets overlooked. When offering an internship, many teams just know that they could use a hand, or that it would be great to have someone else do this. In doing so you are forging a position from uncertainty and that undefined nature is sure to find its way into other facets of your interns work.  When broaching the subject of bringing on an intern you need to look at it the same way as a new hire. What role is required? What will this person be doing? What skills are needed? All of these questions need to be answered honestly so that the scope of the internship can be clearly defined and filled with the right candidate. Upon brining the new intern on, you then need to evaluate their skillset just as you would any other employee. What are they good at? What do they need to develop? Without this process, you could wind up misusing an intern, which can affect your nonprofit.


You need to thoroughly identify the tasks you assign to an intern. A large portion of this should occur before you bring someone on, but it needs to be an ongoing process. Don’t just give interns things to do. Employers will often assign jobs that are low impact, or busy work that just needs to be done. This often can include the handling of social media, newsletters and daily community engagement. Jobs are often assigned because an intern can do something for free or low cost. But what about the cost to your brand? If your nonprofit needs assistance with tasks that apply to your brand (all tasks apply to your brand) be sure the intern is briefed on your brand guide and the values of your brand. Those materials are there for a reason. If you don’t have those materials, that’s a different issue, which you can read about here. You paid to have professionals craft the right brand for your nonprofit. Don’t undermine your own good work by putting all of the tools in the hands of someone that doesn’t understand them. If your intention is to train an intern to manage and apply your brand, then put the investment in by training them and overseeing their work to make sure it stays on course. If not, that’s what your professional design team is for.

Also, be careful in hiring a design intern if you have no one on staff who knows how to provide effective creative direction. Though a design intern may know more about creating collateral than you do, they are still learning and can make many mistakes. It’s best for a design intern to learn under a professional designer who can help them produce great results, than to stumble their way under an executive director who is content with whatever they produce.

An intern can do a lot of damage to your brand.  It’s not their fault though. The responsibility is on the people overseeing the brand. Let your professional design team handle such tasks for you. They’ll be able to do the work for you much faster with far better results. It may not be free, but it never truly was, not when you take into consideration the impact it can have on your brand. 

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