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What you can expect to gain and learn from a nonprofit internship

If you’re considering a career in the nonprofit sector, doing an internship with a charity is an obvious choice. You’ll get a taste of what your working days would look like and you’ll be able to gauge whether it’s indeed a good career choice for you. Plus, there’s opportunity to build a network within the sector. But an NGO internship could also be a strategic move if you have very different career goals, as there’s some intrinsic merits to getting work experience with a grassroots charity. And, of course, there’s the happy fact that, while you’re getting work experience under your belt, you’re also contributing to the betterment of society.

The start of a value-driven career

We’re tempted to see work as an unpleasant but inevitable way to spend a majority of our time, for a majority of our lives. But there’s a different way; there are jobs out there that are enjoyable, enriching, and meaningful. As Alain de Botton points out in his book ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work,’ work is meaningful “[w]henever it allows us to generate delight or reduce suffering in others. Though we are often taught to think of ourselves as inherently selfish, the longing to act meaningfully in our work seems just as stubborn a part of our make-up as our appetite for status or money.”

Though the nonprofit sector doesn’t hold a monopoly on meaningful work, working for a charitable organization is an obvious choice if you’re after a value-driven career. It’s a straightforward way of contributing to a cause that matters to you, and of seeing your work turn into impact.

Apart from the fact that it’s purpose-driven, working in the nonprofit sector has further benefits, as a Guardian article points out. For one, there’s job stability. “[C]harities are less likely to take risks when expanding, so are less likely to suffer financially compared to companies that focus purely on profit,” the article points out. Moreover, the article points out that nonprofit employers tend to offer flexible working hours and good benefits, and that there’s high job satisfaction amongst charity workers.

Some good reasons, then, to consider a career in the nonprofit sector. And a good first move towards this goal is, for obvious reasons, an internship with a nonprofit organization. This will get you the practical work experience you need to confidently and successfully apply for charity jobs once you’ve graduated. Your internship experience will hold weight as an exposure to the field, and as a training in the skills necessary to serve communities best.

And, biased as we are at Roots, we believe that doing your nonprofit internship overseas will bring you added benefits of international work experience, a new perspective, and a confidence boost.

Why you might intern with a charity, even if your goal isn’t a nonprofit career

But there are benefits to doing a charity internship that extend beyond the obvious nonprofit-sector career-building elements. The versatile and flexible nature of nonprofit internships, and the fact that there’s often an entrepreneurial element to them, means they can be a successful springboard for many different career paths.

Because NGOs — particularly ones based in Africa — are often constructed of small teams, an internship with one of these organizations can involve a myriad of tasks. Depending on your specific academic or field interests, you can wear many hats. Say that, for example, you want to focus on marketing and communications; not only can you work to develop organization awareness and reachability, but you can also explore how fundraising works, craft content pieces for a website, or research the tourism industry in a specific country or locale.

For similar reasons, given the fact that you’ll be a vital part of a small team, your role will go far beyond the administrative work you’re likely to do during an average internship with a corporate company. Interning with a small charity will allow you to take on large and exciting projects that will challenge you in the right ways. You can expect to develop skills in areas such as project management, marketing, and business development – skills that are easily transferable to a wide range of job sectors.

And then there’s the international element to doing an internship with a charity in Africa; a multicultural experience that will help you develop softer skills, such as cultural sensitivity and flexibility, communication skills, and empathy.

Check out your options

Interning for a charity speaks to both your work experience and your character. Not only will you engage with community leaders and project spearheaders, but you will attain the field experience that is a rarity in more traditional, corporate internships. Working directly with an NGO refocuses priorities, and it reframes the way in which you view purposeful work.

If you are considering the nonprofit sector as a career path, getting such field experience and internships are essential to this venture. And if you envision a completely different type of career – have a look at the skills you’ll need to thrive in your desired field, and consider a charity internship as a way to develop these.

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