How the nature and benefits of NGO internships might surprise you

When it comes to finding an internship, it might not occur to many people to explore opportunities with an NGO. There’s a general conception that nonprofit internships might not have the same value on your resume or your career as corporate internships. But this isn’t always the case. In fact, there are several myths about NGO internships that we’re here to debunk, because in reality, internships at nonprofits are a great way to make an impact, better your career, and gain both practical and social skills. This is our definitive list of Debunking 5 Myths about NGO internships.
– By Moira Callahan

1. Myth: It’s a way to make an impact, but it won’t help your career

Truth: Many believe that while working at a nonprofit organization is a great way to support a good cause, it won’t boost your resume. In reality, work experience at a nonprofit internship can be as beneficial for your career as an internship at an established corporation – or even more so. NGOs usually have smaller operations, which means that you could have a lot of responsibilities. A common phrase we often use in the nonprofit world is we “wear many hats” meaning we juggle a wide assortment of tasks. This gives you the opportunity to gain a broad range of practical work experience. You can try different types of projects for size, develop skills in different areas, and get exposure to types of work you might not even have considered.

You will also get an inside look into running nonprofit organizations, and a larger understanding of how a company works in general. In contrast, an entry level position at an established company might have you file papers, get coffees, do “grunt work,” but not anything as involved.

Further, taking a nonprofit internship can show your future employer the passionate side of your personality. Your nonprofit work experience will show that you are passionate, flexible, and resilient. These are valuable traits in an employee that will give you an edge over the over applicants. Working in the nonprofit sector has great potential to further your career, whether you continue in the industry or not.

2. Myth: it’s only suitable for people who are planning on a career in the nonprofit sector

Truth: While you might think that nonprofit internships are only for those who aspire to a career in the nonprofit sector, this isn’t the case. You can expect the skills and experience you’ll get during a nonprofit internship to be fully transferable to other industries, including the corporate world. Whatever speciality or interest you end up working in, you’ll be able to take your learnings with you for the rest of your career.

Learning how to communicate effectively, being able to work independently and take initiative, collaborating efficiently in a team, are all valued skills for any organization, not nonprofits.

Nonprofits are smaller operations, and you will be able to develop your skills with a multitude of responsibilities. Afterwards, you can stay with nonprofits, or you might work in business development, content writing, marketing and communications, research, and more! All these areas are applicable after an internship at a nonprofit. Wherever you choose, any organization would be lucky to have you.

3. Myth: It doesn’t give you business-related experience

Truth: While nonprofits have a primary focus on bringing about social change and providing public benefit, they generally operate on a business model of some kind. These organizations still need money to thrive, to grow, and continue their work. Managers of nonprofits need a specific skill set, and that is where an internship could be beneficial. Under supervision, you will see the inner workings of running a nonprofit, and you can take on a diverse role and get involved in a variety of elements.

Whether your talents or interests lie in business development, daily operations, sustainability, communication strategy, or many others, you will emerge from your internship a more well-rounded, educated job candidate.

Running nonprofits is a skillset that applies to many other types of businesses, so while you could continue your work with nonprofits, you will also be a formidable prospect for any business related job.

4. Myth: You have to be an idealist for it

Truth: From an outside perspective, it may seem that working in the nonprofit space is only suitable for people who are highly idealistic or hugely driven by a passion for one specific cause. This isn’t the case. People join nonprofits for a variety of reasons, and not just because they want to make the world a better place (although that’s a perk). Yes, you will be part of a purpose-driven organization but you can also enjoy the travel, the adventure, the career opportunities, the people, and much more. Working for an NGO yields many benefits, and not just for the world but for you!

5. Myth: It’s not a professional environment

Truth: When you picture an NGO, you might picture a bunch of people planting trees in nature fiber clothes or providing clean drinking water to African children. This hardly conjures the same image as working at a corporate job. While yes, nonprofits often have “hands on” work, they are just as professional and hardworking as people sitting in a cubicle. Nonprofits often have a lot of work to do to achieve their goals, and it leaves little room for goofing around. The sector has immensely talented professionals, which provides a wonderful opportunity for you to learn from them.

Because of the less restrained, button-downed environment, NGOs tend to be creative and dynamic environments. Under the tight constraints of low budgets, small teams, and an ever-growing need for more funding, nonprofits often need to get imaginative about their ideas. Nonprofits are also motivated to reach the most amount of people to spread their mission. This environment values new ideas and fresh perspectives, which might be the perfect opportunity for interns.

Check out our NGO internship opportunities in Africa!