Everything you need to know about starting an NGO internship

Are you in the market for an internship and considering your options? If you’ve thought about doing your internship with a charity – or even if you hadn’t thought of that option yet – you’re likely to have some questions about it. We’ve got you covered! Here’s our ultimate guide to nonprofit internships. (You’re welcome.)
By Moira Callahan

Commonly asked questions:

What is an NGO/nonprofit internship?
Who should consider doing an NGO internship?
What should I expect from an NGO internship?
What are the benefits of the NGO internships?
Can I read some advice from past NGO internships?

What is an NGO/nonprofit internship?

A nonprofit internship is a short term work experience with a nonprofit organization (commonly known as an NGO, an acronym for non-government organization). These organizations are not “for profit” organizations meaning that they’re not created for the purpose of making money. Instead, the purpose of NGOs is to further social causes and create positive change. You probably know a few nonprofits without realizing it, i.e. Save the Children, Partners in Health, and WWF.

Who should consider doing an NGO internship?

So, now that we know what a nonprofit internship is, who should do them? A common misconception is that the only people who should do NGO internships are people who want to be in the nonprofit sector for the rest of their lives. While plenty of people do fall in love with the nonprofit sector after their internships, there are plenty of people who go on to do other great things! In reality, all people should consider doing an NGO internship. Some reasons to join might be:

  • To get a change from the norm
  • To propel social change or get the opportunity to work in an area that you are passionate about
  • To boost your resume and cover letters with practical work experience
  • To travel internationally and gain international work experience

Specifically, high school graduates, gap year students, and college students are all people who could gain a lot from working with a charity organization. The job market these days expects all incoming graduates to have work experience on their resumes which can be quite intimidating and overwhelming. However, NGOs are often more intimate organizations with larger roles to fill for interns. This means that instead of photocopying you will be able to handle a variety of tasks that are easily transferable to any job you want. You will learn interpersonal social skills by working in a team dynamic, you will learn the inner workings of an organization, you will expand your skills that are essential to any job candidate.

However, internships at charities are not just popular for recent students or graduates. Internships have been on the rise for people who are looking for a career change or professionals who are on sabbatical. Due to the popularity of internships these days, you can find an internship in basically any passion, interest, or field of study. (We even recently posted a gaming internship on our website if you can believe it.) These are excellent opportunities to try your hand at something with no repercussions. You can learn what works for you, and if it is not for you, you will still get work experience and an amazing experience to boot!

What should I expect from an NGO internship?

The expectations for charity internships are very similar to stepping into any other internship. You should expect to work hard, gain work experience, work with professionals in their field, build personal and professional relationships. But what makes NGO internships stand apart from regular internships? The culture of nonprofit organizations is much different from an internship at a corporation. The first requirement that NGOs often put in their listings is a “go-getter attitude” or an ability to work independently. Nonprofit managers want to see someone who is willing to take initiative, and juggle a few different tasks at once.

While that may seem intimidating, it’s perfectly fine to make mistakes on the job. It’s expected that you are still learning! By trying your hand at a variety of tasks, you will quickly learn what you like to do and what you don’t like to do. Perhaps you love writing blogs, but you find that managing a social media account is too overwhelming. Maybe you love collecting data for a spreadsheet, but you find writing copy really intimidating. When you finish your internship, you will know what to expect for the next job.

What are the benefits of the NGO internships?

Besides the possibility of international travel, the ability to do what you love, to meet talented and passionate people, etc.? There are so many benefits to charity internships! For young working professionals, the most important is how they accelerate career development. Any nonprofit internship will add valuable experience to your resume, cover letters, and interviews. Being a part of an NGO tells an employer that you are resilient, independent, and passionate. These are beneficial skills that speak volumes about your work ethic.

At the end of your internship you will know the ins and outs of your organization, and will be able to speak confidently about it. Nonprofits also tend to be less hierarchical, so in all likelihood you will be on a first name basis with the top boss. This will give you an opportunity to learn from the best. On top of gaining all of the benefits of working within a smaller community, you’ll also have the added bonus of contributing to the good of the world! All of your hard work while undergoing various tasks will make a significant impact in the community, the people, and the world. Making any kind of difference is more than a lot of people can say!

Can I read some advice from past NGO internships?

Absolutely! You can read our testimonials from our past interns here, and here are several blogs about our interns experiences.

Interested in NGO internships? Click here to check out all of our internship listings!