5 Things I Learned as an Intern at a Start-up Non-Profit

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The summer before starting college, I wanted to keep myself busy. I was planning on working part-time, visiting family, and going on a brief trip, but I didn’t want to sit bored at home for the rest of the summer. So, I brainstormed what productive things I could do. Because I’m going to be studying business, I decided it would be a good opportunity if I could get an internship.

I remembered that I knew a couple who had started their own non-profit, and they had previously mentioned to me that I might be able to help them out. I reached out to John Crisp, President of BridgeHope, to see if he would be interested in having me intern for his organization. After discussing what I was looking for and the areas in which BridgeHope could grow, we decided it would be a good fit if I managed their social media and also worked on fundraising projects.

From my first day through all of my subsequent workdays, I learned a lot that I’d like to share with others who may be starting their internship (or employment) at a start-up or new non-profit.

Get to Know the “Why” of the Organization

Before starting any work, I needed to know the ultimate goal that I was supporting. Once I understood that BridgeHope’s strategy was to combat vulnerabilities in order to help human trafficking survivors thrive, I knew that I had to plan my activities to meet that goal. This was especially important to keep in mind when creating a social media strategy.

Knowing the purpose of your organization helps to direct all activities and create a clear understanding of the work to be done. I had very limited knowledge of human trafficking before interning at BridgeHope, but after learning from my supervisor and learning on my own, I now know enough to allow me to be successful in my work.

Learn What Works and What Doesn’t

BridgeHope has some great programs that are very effective and growing the organization. However, there is a lack of “brand recognition,” general knowledge about the organization, and the scope of the human trafficking problem. In order to help BridgeHope the most, I knew I needed to work on social media’s purpose of getting people aware of the brand. Because BridgeHope’s programs are running well, I knew it would be a less effective use of my internship to work directly on their programs. By learning where BridgeHope could grow, I was able to help them grow more effectively than if I had worked in an area in which they were already strong. 

Look Up to Bigger Organizations

Especially when I needed ideas, I looked at what large, strong charities did to get to their current level. They’ve already been through all of the tough, grassroots growing that start-ups are still in, and they got out successfully. They have learned what works for them, and often, those same ideas work for other groups, too. Many fundraising ideas can be found by looking at how large organizations operate. Social media giveaways, gift-with-donation, banquets, websites, and so many other successful ideas came from some of the largest charities.

Know That Your Job Isn’t Strictly Defined

Because the staff at BridgeHope currently has two paid positions and the rest volunteer, my job didn’t necessarily stick to a strict definition. Everyone pitches in to get something done, and we all work together for the success of the organization. Know that working at a start-up non-profit means that your job description could potentially include a few things that aren’t explicitly in it.

Ask Questions

From learning about the problem of human trafficking, to learning what the vision was for our social media, I figured out what I needed to do by asking lots of questions. Working at a new place with few people to learn from can be overwhelming at first, but asking questions helped me to understand most of the things I was confused about.

Working at a start-up non-profit is such a rewarding experience. Although there are some unique challenges, it can be a lot less stressful with some advice, the ability to be flexible, and a positive attitude!

Written by: Brock Mullen (Summer 2019 Intern)