Q: I am thinking about using interns. What factors should I consider before making this decision?
There is a simple place to start: ask yourself why. There is so much written about interns these days that it seems every charity thinks it is missing out if it doesn't have one. But it is important to take a step back and have a look at your objectives.
The most obvious one, sadly, is some cheap labour. I am afraid this one just does not work for me. If a piece of work is important enough, there should be a budget for it. If you do then find a suitable intern, all well and good, but relying on him or her can lead to unsustainable business planning. What is more appropriate is having an intern to add value to a project. This way, the risk is minimised if something should go wrong with the appointment, but the project can really benefit if things go well.
A more altruistic objective when hiring interns, even if it is still tinged with an element of self-interest, is attracting new people into the sector, whether they are recent graduates or people changing careers. The charity involved might view the arrangement as an extended interview process, but would also accept that another charity might be the beneficiary.
Thirdly, you might appoint an intern as an alternative to a temp. This is entirely legitimate if you accept the fact that the person would be a temp and not an intern.
Next, look at the potential benefits.You would get an extra pair of hands, but also, hopefully, an enthusiastic addition to the team with new ideas and a hunger to learn.
With benefits come costs. We all know it is good practice to pay interns, but consider potential training costs and, most importantly, management time, because interns need induction and supervision. Tempting as it might be to scale down the recruitment process, you will need to make sure you take on someone with a certain level of aptitude, even if you are not expecting experience, and this can be difficult to assess.
Then there is the issue of risk. An intern might not feel the same commitment to the charity as an employee or volunteer, so what will you do if you are left in the lurch? What if, out of innocence or naivety, a costly mistake is made?
So start by thinking hard about exactly what you need and whether a member of staff or a volunteer might be more appropriate. Make sure that your recruitment process is fit for purpose, and be prepared to invest time and resources in making things work for both you and the intern. Last but not least, make sure you have an answer when your chair mentions that their son or daughter is looking for an internship.
Send your questions to Valerie.Morton@haymarket.com.
Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant