On-boarding is Important…even for interns

Most small nonprofits, including public media stations, need interns either on a regular basis or for specific projects.  If you’re tied to a university or other educational institution then you pretty much expected to employ several interns a year. 

Most of the time interns arrive for a quick 15 minute interview and given a start date.  You tell them to make sure they bring the forms you need to sign so they get their credit hours and give them a start date.  Then, most likely, you don’t give them another thought till they show up on that first day….and then you scramble for something to do.  And thus the Intern as envelope stuffer is born.

That pretty much leads to a dissatisfying experience for the student and cheats you and your organization out of the valuable skills and thinking these students might bring to your organization.  But you can maximize your internship program and it’s really pretty easy.  Like most things, it just takes a little bit of time at the front end.

First, develop a written internship program.  Spend some time thinking about and writing down what it is you want students to get out of their internship and what tasks will provide them the foundational experiences they need to decide if they want to pursue a career in your industry.  This plan document should include a criteria of where they should be in their academic career.  We have a private high school in Baltimore that required their seniors to do a community service project for two weeks in order to graduate.  We finally had to start saying no to these folks because the length of time they stayed with us wasn’t long enough for them to gather the exposure to radio that would help them decide if they wanted to consider a career in media.  Plus, a radio station can, at times, be a very adult environment and we didn’t feel comfortable having minors in the station should a situation we couldn’t directly control.  (Rock Stars you know!).

After we determined that our interns from our licensee had priority, that they had to be at least a junior with a declared major related to the department they would be working in (Media if they would be working in programming, Business or Communications if they would be working with fundraising) we then started working on an on-boarding program.  We assisnged one individual to do the intake and coordinate the number of interns assigned to each department so we didn’t have too many or too few.  This person also made sure that each department had a specific list of tasks and projects that the intern would be working on.  This ensured that management was aware of what was getting done and monitor the quality of the activities.

Next, we created a short job description and list of responsibilities–like showing up on time.  Sure, college students can treat internships like a class and think cutting class and a day at their internship was “ok.”  We made sure they were informed that punctuality was required and the consequences of following the few “rules” we had. We did have to fire one from time to time and having this document reduced staff guilt when giving a young person the learning experience of being fired.  Record keeping, like making sure they have their own computer sign-ins so you can prove to the educational institution that they weren’t living up to their responsibilities.  You should also call the intern coordinator at the college before firing an intern. Sometimes they can intervene turn things around. Even if they can’t they need to know so they can determine if the student will receive their credits….that’s their job, not yours so it’s a courtesy, not a mediation.

On their first day they should receive the same tour and introductions you would give a new employee.  Introduce them to every staff member you can.  Send an all staff introductory email.  Make sure they know how to get into the building if you’re not giving them a key card.  Show them the bathrooms.  Make sure they know about any informal rules you have about the break room.  If you have several interns starting the same week, grab some pizzas and some sodas and have throw an intern lunch and include staff to get them to mingle into a bit of a team.


So that’s the first few days.  Their performance and the quality of their experience is now up to your individual departments.  As a manager, you should empower your intern coordinator to give feedback to you and each department if they feel the experience isn’t providing the educational experience for the intern or if the intern isn’t getting their tasks assigned due to lack of communication or other internal issue.


So there are a few ideas to chew on if you’re trying to figure out how to get the most out of your program–Good Luck!  Here’s some advice from other experts.



Stephen Yasko

Stephen Yasko is a Public Radio and Media Executive and Nonprofit Executive Director. Yasko is the Founding General Manager of WTMD 89.7 FM in Baltimore where he took a neglected asset to a top 10 NPR Music radio station. He moved WTMD from a basement hovel to a state of the art Broadcast facility located in the center of Towson, MD.