Rotten? Or Right? Internships that Rule

I’m a social entrepreneur, and I believe in interns.  Interns provide great new ideas, strong operational support, and positive contributing attitudes to the team.  They are an essential part of our culture.  Our vision would not be the same without them.

Recently, Michael Skapinker of The Financial Times spoke about ‘Rotten Internships.’  He pointed out weaknesses such as filling internships by hiring the sons and daughters of the well-connected; interns not being compensated; and having little structure or meaningful work.  But there are numerous highlights that can be mutually valuable for both the intern and the organization. Here’s my response to Michael:


I’m a social entrepreneur and I’m a believer.  A believer in interns.

We have more than 10 interns at UniversalGiving (http://www.universalgiving.org0, and we’ve found it to be a very productive experience.  It’s our goal to provide them a great work environment, ownership, management guidance and a positive atmosphere.  We also do achieve many of our goals through them.  It turns out to be very honest, productive and pleasing to both parties.

To be honest, often people are soul-searching. Some are not sure what they want to do and would like to try out a new skill.  Others are ‘trying out’ the nonprofit realm.   Many simply need a kind, structured, productive environment while seeking employment.  Some just need a break.

Our solution: We give them all great experience and put them right to work!  Even if they decide it is not for them, they have still learned a lot, and we have benefited. We’ve organized the tasks so that they build to our goals. Those who move past “Level 1” of marketing research, for example, might be advanced to handling marketing partnerships. In essence, whether it is employees, interns or volunteers, good management and proper delegation per each skill level is essential.

Here are some of the highlights we’ve found in effective Internship Management:

  • We provide a Manager who is willing to guide them.
  • We have specific Business Units, such as Corporate, Development, Marketing, NGO Services, which provides focus. It allows them to gain news skills and for us to execute on priorities.
  • We have a WorkPlan, which allows us to track progress, set deadlines as a team, and achieve goals.
  • We have Job Descriptions. We give them a template; we agree on the responsibilities. They write it so we are sure we are on the same page.
  • We provide free, catered lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with free coffee, pretzels and snacks. *
  • With solid work, we provide recommendations and references from the CEO.

Often our interns are a feeder to employment: They might “graduate” to consultant and then to employee. We see this often. It allows both parties the opportunities to see not only if the skills fit, but also if the values fit.  All good team relationships are built step-by-step, working day by day, with mutual goals and aspirations.  Internships allow us to get to know the interns and vice versa.  Rather than try to determine a good fit by interviews (and some people are great at interviewing, but not necessarily great for the job), we both get practical experience.

My view is that UniversalGiving ( wouldn’t be the same without our interns. They bring joy, enthusiasm, good work ethics, positive attitudes and new ideas. Our culture wouldn’t be the same without them.


*This post was from 2009 when we were housed at Mitch Kapor’s office. He offered lovely benefits such as catered lunches every Tuesday and Thursday. We now have potlucks with the team, where we enjoy our international team’s contributions!


2 thoughts on “Rotten? Or Right? Internships that Rule

  1. Mike Del Ponte

    I completely agree. At Sparkseed (, our interns play a vital role in our success. I’ve learned a lot from UniversalGiving’s trust in interns to drive important functions of the organization. An internship is a great place to learn new skills and work hard to advance to a hire position. The best interns I have had were organized, meticulous, and hard-working. I’ve rewarded them with recognition, higher positions, and special opportunities. It’s a win-win!


  2. Pingback: Ask Pamela: How do I Manage Interns? « Living and Giving

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