Should a donor's daughter get an internship with my nonprofit? - Generocity Philly

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Mar. 9, 2017 4:08 pm

Should a donor’s daughter get an internship with my nonprofit?

Is she interested and a good fit? If so, sure — and here's how to make the experience mutually worthwhile.

Lansie Sylvia.

(Illustration by Hannah Agosta Illustration, based on a photo by Jessie Fox)

How to Give is a monthly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, tweet @FancyLansie.


This month’s question:

One of our major donors approached me about having his daughter intern (unpaid) with our nonprofit this summer. This donor has been extremely generous to us over the years, and has involved his family every step of the way. His daughter is a junior at Penn and she seems interested in our work, but it feels unfair to give her the job just because her dad gives us money. What do I do?

I’m curious to know whether the daughter (let’s call her Molly — she sounds like a Molly) really wants to intern with your organization or whether her dad is putting her up to this, but let’s assume for the sake of this column that Molly’s into it and really does want to work for you.

Here’s the thing — nepotism is a pretty valid concern, and I don’t think that you should bring Molly into the fold just because she’s your donor’s daughter. You did say that she’s been involved with his philanthropy for a bit and seems genuinely interested in what you do. Those are good motivations to be an intern! Plus, it’s an unpaid internship, not a job with benefits and a salary, so it’s not strictly quid pro quo.

But my deeper concern is this: what happens if you bring her on and she hates it?

If it’s a crummy experience, it could potentially influence her family’s giving. It’s a risk you should seriously consider.

That said, just to make it complicated, if you brought her on and her internship went well, you could draw a multi-generational philanthropic family that much closer to your organization. Get in good with the daughter and you could deepen the whole family’s engagement with your cause, and build long-term bonds that could benefit both parties for years.

So I say go for it!

But with a few general caveats …

Interview her first.

Any relative or friend of a donor, staff member or volunteer should still have to go through the full interview process with your organization. Bring her in for an in-person interview with more than one of your staff members. This way, you can compare impressions, ask diverse questions and get a feel for how she might react to working with multiple managers.

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Plus, if she’s not a great fit, it’s not just your one opinion that you have to rationalize to the donor. It’s an opinion coming from your larger staff, which any worthwhile donor would respect.

Define and discuss the core objectives.

Let’s assume that she aces the interview and you offer her the spot. You need to have clear expectations and write them down. That way, you have a firm rubric by which to evaluate her performance.

I also recommend that you make sure she has a long-term project to work on that requires minimal day-to-day supervision. That way, if you or her manager is tied up or out of the office for a day, she still has an active project to work on and won’t be sitting around with “nothing to do.”

Balance office time with flextime.

I’ve discovered the best balance for my interns is to have each one in the office at least one full day per week, preferably two, with four-plus hours spent out of the office working on projects. I really don’t recommend having any intern work 100 percent remotely even if they’re the savviest digital native to ever exist and have all the latest remote-working tools (I see you, Slack.)

A big part of what makes an internship valuable for both staff members and interns is the interpersonal interactions. Staff members who have never managed people before learn how to assign and monitor tasks. Interns learn how to work with different personality types. Plus, at a nonprofit it’s often critical to have a few willing hands who are able to pitch in during a pinch.

Give her a project that’s her own … and then keep your mitts off of it!

You want every intern, regardless of who their parents are, to have an amazing experience at your nonprofit. After all, we know that happy volunteers have a high likelihood of becoming steadfast donors!

One of the best tips I’ve heard is to give interns a project that also helps build your team morale. These types of fun, culture-building activities can be the first thing to fall by the wayside when things get hectic and staffers are crunched for time. But they’re so important!

This can take the form of organizing an organization-wide shared lunch or happy hour activity. (Personal fave: going to the batting cages with my coworkers. We get to spend time together and hit stuff. Extremely cathartic.) Molly would then be in charge of researching the options, securing a venue, managing a budget, possibly recruiting sponsors, possibly writing press releases, coordinating all of the moving parts and ensuring everyone has a good time.

This type of project hits on many key responsibilities, and if Molly does a good job, you can feel more confident that she’ll likely be successful in bigger projects moving forward.

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My hope is that this is an enriching opportunity for you, Molly, your donor and his family. With any luck, it will be the daughter’s first step towards a lifetime of philanthropic engagement. Good luck!

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