Development Dilemma: Bringing on an Intern

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In our weekly column, consultants with decades of nonprofit experience answer your questions about fundraising, boards, strategy and more. To ask a question and be featured (anonymously!) in the column, email your questions to

This week’s question will be answered by Dean Rein.

The Dilemma

My boss just announced that we will be taking on a college intern this summer for our development department. She told me that I will determine his assignments and supervise his work. How can I best utilize an intern for our development program?

Dean’s Response

Congratulations to your organization for having the forethought to employ an intern to assist in your development program. Too often we see the intern being viewed as a burden rather than a mutually beneficial opportunity. Keep in mind that an intern can learn a great deal about development and your organization while undertaking some short-term projects that you just haven’t had the time to complete. This “on the job” training can help to groom a potential new employee, or at least help the intern determine if development is the right career path for him or her. In many cases it can be a Win-Win experience.

In preparation for on-boarding an intern, identify the specific projects or assignments you feel can be accomplished during the intern’s time with your organization. This could include some simple data collection which could help to produce reports on giving trends or number of interactions with donors. Data reports provide your intern with some experience in quantitative analysis while providing you with actionable information to help improve performance.

Most organizations have special events planned over the summer months. Anyone up for some golf? Give the intern a role (or multiple assignments) related to the special event. This can free up a staff member to do other things that can help to produce more revenue.

Prospect research makes for a great short term project. Think about some research needs that would help to formulate solicitation strategy for individuals, foundations, and corporations. It’s amazing what can be accomplished with the internet and a little concentrated time. These are only a few examples. You and your colleagues will likely have many more.

Try to identify a variety of assignments in order to expose your intern to many facets of your program. Engage other members of your team. Have the intern attend some select meetings or even join a staff member on a donor visit. Certainly you don’t want to include the intern in every meeting or too many donor calls, but you should design this experience to provide an in depth view into the work of a nonprofit organization and the many functions that go into a successful development program.

Before your intern’s first day, make sure you’ve provided them with a job description or detailed list of assignments. Organizing a phone meeting to provide information about the assignments and expectations should help prepare both you and the intern for their first day and for a rewarding and mutually beneficial experience. Remember, your intern will be an ambassador for your nonprofit, telling members of their network what a wonderful experience they had at your organization.

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