Membership + Marketing

10 Secrets of Effective Internship Programs for Associations

10 Secrets of Effective Internship Programs for Associations

Younger generations provide new insight, ideas, and intentions to the workplace. As they are gearing up to enter the workplace, internships can be a valuable resource that provides benefits for both the intern and the organization sponsoring the internship. For an association, internships can be a great way to promote your association to a market that you may not be reaching already.

It’s no secret that younger generations are looking for careers that are meaningful and make a difference. In order to do this, they look to work for organizations with a mission that they connect with. As associations are looking to gain more memberships from younger generations, internship programs can get the word out about joining or potentially working for an association. 

The most effective programs benefit both the intern and the organization. They provide valuable entry-level experience to the interns and can become an effective recruitment tool, attracting high-level candidates.

If you manage an association you might be interested in creating an internship program for your staff. You may also, however, be charged with helping your members create programs for their own companies. Either way, best practices for creating an effective program will help start an internship program and take an existing one to a new level. Here are our suggestions:

  1. Be Intentional
    Make a great impression on new interns with a well-designed program that is familiar to everyone in your association. Don’t wing it. Plan the details. After all, this is a prospective candidate’s first glimpse into your culture. Show them your best.

  2. Assign a Dedicated Intern Manager
    It doesn’t matter if you have one intern or 100, someone needs to manage the program, and often that’s someone in human resources. Line managers may be able to answer most questions, but it’s best to have someone to act as an advisor for interns. Also, a program manager can ensure that your association and the intern are getting the most from the internship.

  3. Decide How to Compensate
    Your association’s goals and financial situation will determine how you can afford to pay interns for their work. Students live on notoriously small budgets and some of the best may not be able to accept internships without a stipend. You’ll be competing against other companies, so make your offer the best it can be. If you can’t financially pay your interns, make sure you are compensating them in some other way. This can include career growth, free membership, direct mentorship opportunities, or free courses or certifications that your association provides - especially if the intern hopes to work in your industry one day. Other ways to compensate include college credit, relocation bonuses, subsidized housing, or scholarships.

  4. Conduct Orientation for Everyone
    When your program begins, hold an orientation session for everyone – interns and their managers. This helps to create a sense of community and allows everyone to hear program information at the same time and to ask questions.

  5. Provide Organization Info Via Handbook or Website
    Create an FAQ guide to the program and your association’s structure. Share information about your expectations and culture. If certain dress codes are suggested or required, make certain your interns know before their first day on the job. You can also describe an “average” day. You shouldn’t hold an intern accountable for anything you haven’t discussed.

  6. Assign Real Work
    Think of your interns as developing professionals. They work for you on a part-time or full-time basis for a limited amount of time, but they can bring new ideas, skills, and solutions to your challenges. Rather than exclusively assigning them difficult or repetitive tasks that full-time staffers don’t enjoy, think about challenging them to devise a new way to solve the problem.

  7. Give Specific Feedback
    If you are supervising the work of several interns, devise a series of one-on-one meetings and opportunities to touch base with them regularly. If you already use a management system with your team, include your interns. Give honest evaluations of their work. Allow them to ask questions. Ask them to report any roadblocks in completing their tasks. Today’s intern might one day report to you, so consider what you’d like them to know as a full-time team member.

  8. Include Interns in Training Programs
    By including interns in your organization’s training programs, you not only help them gain real-world experience and develop essential skills, but you also foster a pipeline of potential talent. Involving interns in your training programs can enhance your organization's diversity and inclusion efforts by providing opportunities to individuals from diverse backgrounds.

  9. Provide Social Opportunities & Networking
    Interns value the opportunity to interact with their peers and with leaders in your association and the industry so they can build valuable professional relationships and expand their networks. You help them bridge the gap between academia and the real world, providing a place for them to learn from experienced colleagues and gain insights into career paths. These activities also boost interns' morale and engagement, making them feel more connected to your culture and values.

  10. Funding the Program
    Some companies may be able to fund paid internships from their current budgets. Others, as well as associations, may have to raise the funds they need. A few ideas include: membership dues, sponsorships, grants, fundraising events such as galas or auctions, endowments created to fund internships, collaborations with academic institutions, internship fees for participating companies, or crowdfunding. 

Winning a place in a valuable internship program can help boost a promising career. Making the program attractive by providing meaningful work, growth opportunities, networking opportunities, and a stipend, among other benefits, can help companies compete for talented students with an interest in the industry.



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