Interns share value of internships

By Pamela Clark, director of student services and admissions and Abby Rolland, communications project manager, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Who benefits from internships?

In the nonprofit sector, internships provide crucial, practical experiences for students preparing for careers in the field. At the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, both undergraduate and graduate students in philanthropic studies complete at least one internship.

Tyrone Freeman, Ph.D., believes internships are a vital part of the undergraduate learning experience.

“They provide students with pre-professional opportunities in the workplace that expose them to careers and organizations of interest.

“Internships test students’ abilities, build their networks, and let them try out various professional roles and workplace cultures before they make their own career decisions,” said the director of undergraduate programs and assistant professor of philanthropic studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Students find that internships enhance and contribute to their experiences overall. Claire Ralston, a senior in the philanthropic studies program, wanted to intern at Shepherd Community Center. So, she reached out to chief development officer Steve DeBuhr in order to discuss creating an internship that not only gave Ralston firsthand experience of work in the sector, but also benefited the Center.

Ralston spent last summer refining the Center’s stewardship process, helping with events, and managing volunteers. Her internship gave her tangible skills to be transferred to a future career. “It was a well-rounded experience for me.”

Her supervisor, DeBuhr, noted the benefits to the nonprofit. Not only did she implement her book learning, but her work as become its standard operating procedure.

“Claire was able to implement what she’s learned at the school and combine it with an attention to detail and a desire to pursue excellence. Her work has become our standard operating procedure for our newly formulated stewardship program, and any on-going benefit to Shepherd attained by thanking or connecting to our donors will in no small means be attributed to her work,” said DeBuhr.

Kathi Badertscher, Ph.D., director of graduate programs and lecturer of philanthropic studies, added, “the internship course provides the culminating experiential learning opportunity for students to apply their graduate-level education in practice.

“Students work or volunteer in a wide range of nonprofit settings, from “voluntourism” to special event planning to capital campaign management, based on their interests. They gain experience in setting priorities and contending with some of the realities of philanthropic work such as human and financial resource constraints.

“Internships provide a crucial bridge between the classroom, real-world issues in philanthropy, and skill development in a professional setting,” Badertscher said.

Macy Jackson, another senior in the bachelor’s degree program, spent last fall with Gleaner’s Food Bank of Indiana working with their grants and foundations department. She read and analyzed past grant reports and gathered the information in one place in order for current staff to utilize the information for future grants. She also wrote grant proposals, a practical skill she knows will be useful when she looks for full-time work.

“I’ve been able to use what I’ve learned in class, such as knowing the best way to talk to donors and foundations, in my work. I enjoy working with organizations and figuring out how I can integrate what I’ve learned to help them.”

Savanah Strever, director of grants and foundation relations and Jackson’s supervisor at Gleaner’s, also shared her thoughts on the advantage of hosting an intern.

“Having Macy allowed us to tackle several projects that otherwise may have been put on the backburner. She helped create systems and tools that will improve efficiency, ultimately resulting in increased fundraising capacity for those in need,” Strever explained.

Students are not limited to internships in Indianapolis or their hometowns. M.A. alumna Kelly Mitchell, the current Treasurer of the State of Indiana, spent her internship at a nonprofit organization in Kathmandu, Nepal.

“Being on the front lines and seeing the powerful effects philanthropy can have impacted me a great deal,” she explained.

Current bachelor’s degree student Kelsey Harrington spent time in South Africa, learning that building relationships and sustaining long-term impact are important aspects of philanthropy.

Her experience helped her earn an internship at the George and Frances Ball Foundation last fall, which will evolve into a full-time role once she graduates. This is an additional side-effect of some internships that is not limited to Harrington.

Nationally, more than 40% of the total expected number of new hires from 2011-2012 were expected to come from a company’s internship program, according to the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) 2012 Internship & Co-op Survey.

Nonprofits are no different. The opportunity to screen potential employees is one benefit for nonprofits who host internships. In addition, both the organization and the intern can determine if the pair fits together well.

JoAnna Ness, M.A. ’18, earned her current job as the Communications Director for the Steuben County Community Foundation after a summer internship there working in communications. “During my internship, we discovered it was a great fit on both ends, and the timing worked out perfectly.”

How can an intern benefit your nonprofit organization?

  • Address an organizational need.
  • Gain fresh, energetic, and knowledgeable “staff” at reduced cost.
  • Screen potential employees.
  • Increase interaction with the university and gain access to faculty expertise.
  • Contribute to professional growth of the student.

Erin Wuertz, B.A. ’18, has a passion for domestic violence victims. Volunteering at Coburn Place led to an internship in philanthropy, which then evolved into another internship there in events management. Since then, Wuertz first earned a full-time role as a mentor, and now coordinates the organization’s volunteers.

Finally, senior Natalie Laskowski spent last summer as an intern with the Future Farmers of America (FFA) Foundation on their development and donor services team. Laskowski worked with projects ranging from annual fund data analysis to endowment reporting to corporate sponsorship engagement. Her internship extended to the fall, and she then received the opportunity to begin full-time work as the Development Coordinator in the spring.

Her commitment to FFA and creativity in learning did not go unnoticed by FFA Foundation President Molly Ball.

“Natalie is awesome. She takes a project and looks at it from a different angle in order to find innovative ways to approach an issue,” Ball explained.

At least four graduating students in the bachelor’s and master’s degree programs this year alone will work full-time with organizations that previously hosted them as interns.

 “We’re grateful to the many nonprofit organizations that have partnered with us and our students in providing rich experiences that support academic objectives, and look forward to continuing current partnerships and establishing new ones with nonprofit organizations,” Badertscher said.

Interested in learning how you can benefit from having an intern? Contact Pamela Clark at  

Pamela Clark currently serves as the director of student services and admissions for the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She enjoys working with students and supporting them in achieving their academic goals. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Evansville and a master’s degree in adult education from Indiana University.

Abby Rolland serves as the communications project manager at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and is also working towards a master’s degree in philanthropic studies. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Gettysburg College

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