Creating and Maintaining an Association Internship Program

Creating and Maintaining an Association Internship Program

An internship is an opportunity to work for someone to work for a company or organization for a fixed period of time. Ideally an internship is a symbiotic relationship, wherin the hosting organization reaps the advantages of fresh ideas and an additional staff member and the intern gains experience and makes valuable connections.

Why create an internship program?
An internship may have multiple catalysts and benefits. Your association may feel the need for a different perspective or may have received a grant to take on a temporary employee who needs a leg up in your industry. You may even have outreach through an internship as part of your organization’s mission. Sometimes internships are created to give employees and employers a chance to see if they are a good fit to work together and to give the intern on-the-job training that he or she needs to continue in the organization.

Should your intern be paid?
Your association should not create an internship to take advantage of free labor. In fact, there are laws that prevent this in most cases. If you have a need for an extra pair of hands in the office, it’s better to hire a temp or to recruit a volunteer. If you decide not to pay hourly wages or a salary to your intern, it’s wise to consider what else your association can offer in return. Again, check your municipal, state and federal laws to ensure you are not violating any. Compensation may include membership in the organization, future training or tuition, a stipend or college credit.

How do you design an internship program?
When designing an internship program, it’s wise to first get buy-in from key staff who will be working with that person. Develop a set of detailed expectations for both parties and be clear about compensation, duties, hours and dates of the internship program. To avoid legal issues later, be sure to have an attorney review your internship plan and contract. You’ll have to decide who the intern reports to and make sure that person has the time and dedication to mentor the intern. It may also be appropriate to have the intern rotate through different managers so that he or she can get a broad perspective of your association and industry. Don’t forget about finding a workspace for the intern that includes a computer, phone or other necessary equipment, unless you are hiring a virtual intern, which is a newer trend in internships.

What is the process for finding interns?
Finding an intern is straightforward once you have the above details worked out:

● Write up language promoting the internship with all relevant details.
● Advertise the internship opening through appropriate channels, such as on your website, in industry newsletters, through educational institutions, on social media and local groups, etc.
● Create a screening process, such as an application, essay, video, and interview, and be sure that you follow all local laws pertaining to “hiring” an intern.
● Select your intern, ideally after group discussion among the stakeholders or your professional peers.

Consider opening up your internship to everyone, not just students. Be open to applications from older adults who are not ready for full retirement, parents who are now re-entering the workforce, individuals making career changes, and (especially) anyone with a passion for your association’s mission.

How should you evaluate an internship?
Finally, your internship should have an evaluation process, just like regular employees, whether it be at the end of the program or at predetermined milestones so that the intern can capitalize on feedback immediately. Be sure to ask for an exit interview, too, so that your intern can offer his or her opinion on the experience. Hopefully, you both will have found the internship mutually beneficial will continue your relationship in the future.