How to Land Your Dream Social-Impact Internship

How to Land Your Dream Social-Impact Internship was originally published on Idealist Careers.

It’s no secret that when you begin your career search, internship experience will help you stand out from the competition. But how do you secure an internship with an organization you love? That is the million-dollar question.

According to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, internship experience is the most important resume element that employers look for when hiring a recent graduate. So it stands to reason that many organizations will consider past interns for open roles, owing to their familiarity with daily tasks and processes.

When beginning your search for a social-impact internship, it’s a good idea to figure out which organizations appeal to you and can help you launch your career—here’s how to get started.

Research internship options

Make a list of organizations that work in the fields you’re passionate about, keeping in mind places you volunteer with, donate to, or follow on social media—since you’re already familiar with their mission areas, you’ll be able to make a stronger pitch for why you’d be a great intern.

Find out whether these organizations have formal internship offerings listed on their websites or by calling their offices. You can also look for organizations with internship listings on Idealist. You’ll find plenty of diverse opportunities to meet your goals through internship programs conducted in person, remotely, in a hybrid manner, or internationally.

And while formal internships are a great place to look, you may find that there is one organization you’re particularly excited about that doesn’t have an internship program. In this case, creating your own internship may allow you to customize an opportunity and gain specific skills to launch your career.

Pitch an internship to your dream organization

If you find yourself in a position where you are able to pitch an internship idea to a potential employer, try this:

  • Think about where you may be needed at the organization. Do some research into the different departments at your dream organization to find out what piques your interest, then consider how you could be of service. If you’re interested in marketing, you may want to assist with writing and sending their newsletter or updating social media platforms. If you’d like to gain experience in fundraising, keep in mind how the organization communicates with donors or attempts to gain new ones.
  • Set up a call with a program manager or department head. Whether you choose to send a LinkedIn message, email, or make a cold phone call, make sure to introduce yourself and give a quick summary of why you’d like to be considered for an internship. Highlight any relevant skills and past experiences that can help you make your case. Then, let the person know that you’re interested in setting up a longer call to go over your resume and discuss any project needs that you may be able to address.
  • Be prepared to answer questions about funding/pay. If the organization shows interest in bringing you on as an intern, they may ask you what your expectations are regarding pay. If you’d like for them to pay you directly, have an estimated calculation prepared in advance. For example, if you would work 40 hours per week x 10 weeks at $10 per hour, you might ask for $4000. However, if you have already found potential funding via your university or a grant, be sure to have those details handy as well.

Secure outside funding

If you’re looking for an internship on Idealist, you’ll notice that we only list paid internship opportunities—that’s because we know that interns are a valuable part of the social-impact workforce and should be compensated as such. But if you are considering accepting an unpaid internship, looking for outside funding can provide much-needed support throughout your internship.

Apply for internship funding with your university

Some application deadlines are quite early, so try to start your funding research a semester in advance. An easy place to start is by googling “internship funding + [YOUR COLLEGE].”

Visit your college career services and financial aid offices online to research what funding sources may be available, and set up meetings with both offices for advice and tips on securing funding.

Research individual scholarships, fellowships, and grants

You can also apply for funding via scholarships and fellowships. Scholarships and fellowships are typically awarded to students for high academic marks and are often geared toward students that match the funding source’s unique focus area (such as a particular professional focus area or a certain geographic area).

As an example, there are green scholarships for students interested in pursuing a career in the environmental field or working to implement green projects on campus. Other scholarships may be offered to support students from a particular city or state.

Pro Tip: Foundation Grants to Individuals Online is a subscription-based service that allows you to access a database of over 10,000 foundations that provide scholarships, fellowships, grants, and a wide range of financial support.

Consider an internship in a “critical-need language” country

If you are considering an international internship, try searching for a paid opportunity first.

For students who are U.S. citizens, there are numerous federal awards programs offering funding for international internships in countries where critical-need languages (foreign languages that are critical to national security and economic prosperity) are spoken. See links below for a list of countries that are considered critical-need language countries.

Paid internships abroad are rare and competitive, so if you try this route and don’t land funding, not to worry! Internship Abroad Scholarships is a great online resource to find other sources of funding.

Be sure to also reach out to any international institutes, study abroad program offices, or language departments on your campus for more info on funding international internships.

Consider a part-time internship

If you have a dream internship in mind and all of the above methods and strategies are exhausted, consider pursuing this internship on a part-time basis alongside another part-time, paid gig.

You may be able find a part-time paid job through work-study financial aid if you are eligible. Work-study is a type of financial aid that allows an eligible student to gain access to a database of part-time paid jobs on or near campus. Check with your financial aid office and google “work study + [YOUR COLLEGE]” to see a listing of work-study jobs.

For out-of-state internships, look for paid part-time jobs in the area where you would like to do your internship. You may also consider asking potential employers for a stipend to help offset costs for room and board.


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