3 Ways Nonprofits Can Create a Meaningful Internship Experience


By Vivian Mak, CCVO Policy Intern

As my summer internship at CCVO comes to an end, I am reflecting upon my time with the organization. Based on my experience, I’d like to share three ways that nonprofits can create a meaningful internship experience that I found personally enhanced mine. I will also draw upon the perspectives and insights I gained from other summer students during the Kahanoff Summer Student Lunch in June.

#1: Trusting Your Intern to Do Meaningful Work

From the start of my internship up until the very end, I never really felt like I was an intern. Rather, I was given the opportunity to engage in projects and work like any other CCVO staff member. The work that I did was important and I was trusted to complete it, which was a key part of my experience. Instead of doing mindless tasks or being scrutinized, I showed up every day confident in my ability to do the work, and the team around me did as well.

This was emphasized during the student lunch hosted by CCVO, as other students discussed how important it was to be trusted with work and responsibility. Because of the work that many of the students were trusted to take on, some felt that they were able to learn more in their internship than any of their academic experiences so far. The trust shown allowed these interns to expand their skill capacity, learn through experience, and explore new avenues of creativity as they engaged with their work.

#2: Demonstrate Passion for the Work of Your Nonprofit

A comment that surfaced multiple times during the summer student lunch conversation was the passion that people have for their work in the sector. Nonprofits are known to have employees who truly care about their organization’s cause and community. Being in an environment where people are so dedicated and passionate about the work they do really motivated me to put my best work forward as well. When people are genuinely interested in what they do, it makes all the difference, and that inspired me, as I saw firsthand the dedication people have to see a project through. It was also meaningful to know that the work of a nonprofit is directly helping those in your community, and that made the work even more impactful.

#3: Creating a Flexible Work Environment

One of the best aspects of working in the nonprofit sector, and has been echoed by several summer students, is the level of flexibility in the sector’s work environments. Whether that be in terms of time off, projects to work on, or direction of work in general, nonprofits seem to have more flexibility than other sectors allowing employees more control over their work. I genuinely felt like I had enough time to complete all my tasks, was able to delve into new and interesting projects, and enjoy my time outside of work this summer, which is often hard to find in other, more structured workplaces.

How can your nonprofit attract more young professionals?

The summer students I spoke with were quick to provide a range of ideas, including:

  • Increasing online engagement: Students clearly preferred and favoured organizations that had some sort of online presence. They seemed more inclined to apply for a position – some even seeking out postings on social media – when they could learn more about the work nonprofits were doing through various forms of social engagement, including a clearly navigable website.

  •  Fostering a work environment that rewards: Students recognize the limited resources and capacity of nonprofits to provide wages that are on par with other sectors. However, they also look for a balance between working for an organization that is dedicated to a cause they are passionate about, and a good salary. They shared some other ways that nonprofits can reward their employees when they cannot afford higher salaries, which included: offering good benefits, work-life flexibility, mental health support, diversity in work experience, and respectful and welcoming environments where they feel supported and cared for.

I encourage nonprofits looking to create a positive and meaningful internship or work experience to take the above into account. I strongly believe in the potential of youth and really advocate for the extensive learning experience that working or interning in a nonprofit can offer. Reciprocally, youth can often bring new perspectives and unique life experiences that nonprofits can learn from and appreciate.

Overall, it has been a pleasure interning at CCVO this summer. I was able to learn more than I ever imagined, and I look forward to seeing all of the exciting work that they will do in the future!

Vivian Mak was a Policy Intern with CCVO from May-August 2019. She is an undergraduate student in the Bachelor of Commerce program at the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business and a 2018 BMO Capital Markets Loran Scholar.