Written by: Isaac Durham
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Researchers estimate that up to 1 million American’s work as unpaid interns each year. Without wages to shoulder the cost of living, an unpaid internship deepens the existing social divide. The road to making unpaid internships a thing of the past isn’t a smooth one. In some cases, particularly nonprofit organizations, simply don’t have the financial means to pay their interns. 

Over the past couple of years, the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance helped to make these unpaid internships more accessible by offering the Career Development Award. This Award program was designed to eliminate the barrier of an unpaid internship at a nonprofit organization (in-person or virtual) and increase the diversity of the nonprofit workforce by providing $2,000 internship stipends for students completing their Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) credential.  

One recipient, Isaac Durham, completed their internship with CHIEF Inc., as an Associate of Development. Here our Issac’s three main takeaways from this internship: 

Relationships, relationships, relationships  

  • When talking to the CEO of CHIEF Inc. about organizational success, he stressed the importance of relationship-building within the nonprofit sector. This rang true to me for a number of reasons, one being the fact that I was only talking to him because my former boss connected us. Finding an ideal internship seemed like a daunting task but thankfully due to a good relationship with my old boss, it wasn’t so bad. This experience reflected one of the numerous benefits of having strong relationships with peers and mentors. The importance of identifying and developing strong relationships within one’s professional life is also true when leading a nonprofit. As a nonprofit leader, it requires maintaining a good relationship with the board of directors, the government, the public, donors, and those whom your organization serves. This concept was one of the many valuable lessons I learned throughout my internship while shadowing our CEO, experiencing first-hand what it’s like to lead a nonprofit. 

The importance of negotiation 

  • Apart from relationships, I learned the importance of negotiating. Donors, who are often successful business men or women, may want to be more involved in the allocation of money and how it is managed. Although it makes sense that one would want to make sure that their donation has maximum impact, it might be difficult to have restrictions on donations. Furthermore, in some situations, it’s necessary to not receive a donation that has too many strings attached.  

Keep it on the records 

  • Lastly, during my internship, I learned that everything needs to be recorded and documented. Whether it was a negotiation session, a business meeting, or a transaction, a detailed report needed to be generated. Although this can seem tedious, it helps ensure that integrity and transparency are maintained. 

Overall, this internship was a great opportunity and I experienced firsthand the realities of being a nonprofit leader.

Isaac DurhamAbout the Author: I enjoyed my time working for an amazing organization called Teen Challenge. This nonprofit organization offers residential treatment for youth, adults, and families who struggle with life-controlling addictions. During my time working here, I served as the public relations representative, teacher, lead evening staff, and counselor. After my graduation in May of 2022, I began my new job serving as the Executive Assistant at CHIEF Inc. I’m also currently pursuing a Masters in Global Management at Thunderbird/ASU

“The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.”