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The Determined Intern

Posted At: September 5, 2012 2:42 P.M.
by Jessica Colburn

As I sat at my desk of my summer internship each morning, going through the ritualistic motions of opening the same five tabs on my Macbook (Facebook, Evernote, Gmail, Work email, Reddit — Don’t worry, I always check Twitter before I get out of bed), I took a brief survey of the day ahead. It wasn’t very scheduled.

I learned very quickly that life as an intern is quite different from life as a college student leading multiple student organizations. As an intern, we are not the ones who make the call. We are not the ones who develop an idea and go with it.

Here, we are the listeners. We learn through observation, stepping up to the plate through listening skills that (hopefully) will catch any opportunity that may present itself.

Here, we ask permission more than we have in the past two or three years of school combined. And I have learned, a bit slower than I thought I would, that life as an intern at a nonprofit is even more different than life as an intern in another PR sector.

I thought I knew a fair amount about nonprofits before I took my position at the Cahaba River Society (CRS) in May. Boy, was I wrong! It is amazing to me how much a six-person staff accomplishes, and how versatile and far-reaching the organization is on a weekly basis. CRS has opened my eyes to the adaptive behavior nonprofits must have in order to thrive.

It was a good — a healthy — challenge to adjust to life as a nonprofit intern this past summer. I was confident I would easily find my way to leave my mark at CRS.

I quickly realized, however, that the very task of discovering “my project” was not as simple as I had imagined. I found, through trial and error, the solution to this problem is to make your own place within the organization.

As summer ends and school begins, I leave CRS with an increased knowledge in multiple aspects of public relations — and with some advice for those of you determined to make as big of a difference as possible through your internship experience:

  • Be a listener. (See third paragraph!)
  • Find your organizational niche. Every organization is different — where do you fit best? Are you the creative? Are you the planner? Match your strengths with opportunities within your organization. Don’t see a place for you? Create one (just ensure you’ve thought out your idea before presenting it to your supervisor!).
  • Take every opportunity to meet new people and collaborate with them. Board meeting? Trustee meeting? Ask to join! These are great opportunities to meet influential people within your field and community (and could provide you a chance to discover more projects for your internship). New intern? Seek other departmental projects where you could contribute.
  • Try, try again. Did you make a new e-newsletter that was rejected twice (ahem)? Try again! And remember, what matters most is WHO approves it (and their tastes might differ from yours).

Happy interning!

For more information about the Cahaba River Society and internship opportunities, please visit:

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