It’s important that whatever you do on the last day of working as an intern, that you leave on a good note. You can do this by continuing to work hard throughout the day. Not only will this type of effort be impressive to your supervisor, but it could be something that they remember about you when future employers call on them as a reference. My last task of my internship was putting materials in folders for our Executive Director, for meetings he would have with political leaders and potential donors. To say the least, these packets had to look good so that the people that the Executive Director would meet with would have a positive impression of the work our organization does. On my last day, it was actually the day that I was at the work for the latest, since there were quite a lot of these packets to make and I was assigned to make them very late in the working day. I was focused on doing a good job on these packets, and in hindsight, I’m very glad that I put a lot of effort into them. Finish strong!
This summer, most of the work that I’ve done has been what’s called “prospecting,” which is the process of finding potential donors to an organization. The difficulty of this task depends on a few factors, including how many donors an organization has already prospected, the notoriety of the organization, and how narrow its mission is.
I was able to use my liberal arts education, which to me means that I was able to think critically about the profile of what a good prospect is, in my time at The Fairness Project. Instead of filtering online for people who had given the largest donations to any political campaign or organization, I filtered based on specific organizations whose missions and values are in line with that of The Fairness Project. Not only did this save me a significant amount of time, but it also got me a lot more people who were more likely to donate to The Fairness Project than the typical political donor would be.
If your internship doesn’t involve prospecting, which is quite likely, there are still a few things you can take away from my experience. The most important one, in my opinion, is that using your critical thinking skills, as honed during your time at Dickinson, will save you time and make your work more efficient.
The most important thing, other than experience and exposure to a field, that students receive from an internship is the connections you have made with colleagues. When you finish your internship, I personally feel that thank you notes (or emails if your handwriting as bad as mine) are a great way to leave on a good note. There’s a chance that when your colleagues think about you and your performance, they could think of the thank you note, so they’re worth putting a good amount of time and thinking into.
The tone of the thank you note can vary based on your relationship with the colleague you’re writing it to. However, it should remain professional, so having only inside jokes is probably not the best idea. When I wrote my thank you notes, based on the fact that the office was small and I knew everyone, I tried to refer to learning opportunities I had from the summer involving the colleague I was writing to. For example, I could write to someone thanking them for showing me how to use software during my first week.
In terms of who you decide to write thank you notes to, that’s up to you, but my philosophy on it was that it’s better to write too many thank you notes than to write too few. If people, especially in a small office like I worked in, are talking about your note on the week after you leave, it allows for the opportunity for people who didn’t receive them to feel left out and unappreciated. Since I appreciated and genuinely enjoyed connecting and learning from all of my colleagues, I wrote them each an individualized thank you note.
The most important skill, in my opinion, to have at an organization like The Fairness Project is communication. Being able to communicate to your supervisors, fellow interns, and other staff members allows you to work more efficiently and ensures that everyone that you work with is in the loop with what you’re working on. An essential element to our organization is that we communicate and coordinate campaigns with organizations outside of our office, which are typically run in the states where the campaigns occur. This means that being able to effectively communicate what you need to know from someone you’re emailing or calling helps everyone get the most amount of work done in a given day. In the campaign world, being able to save someone’s time allows them to work on getting their candidate or issue more likely to succeed come election day.
Part of communicating isn’t simply just telling people what you’ve been up to during the course of a workday, but also asking questions when you have questions to ask. My supervisors at multiple internships and jobs have stressed this point to me, which is that they’d rather you ask a question about something than have you not ask a quick question and have you misunderstand the whole task and have to do it over again.
Something that I’ve taken increasingly seriously this Summer as a Development Intern at The Fairness Project has been exploring the field of fundraising as a potential career, as well as expanding my network. I started by talking to my organization’s Development Coordinator and Development Director, learning how they got involved in the political non-profit fundraising world, and receiving advice from them on the topics of what they look for when they and other development professionals are hiring candidates. From there, I had an informational interview with our office’s Research Director, in which we discussed the field of political non-profit research. Recently, I’ve expanded my Dickinson network by attending the D.C. Career Conversation networking event in the past month. Through connections I made at the event, I’ve had coffee/informational interviews with alumni who live and work in Washington D.C., which have been incredibly helpful for me to understand the paths that Dickinson alumni take upon graduation and beyond.
One of the biggest changes to my day to day life, and that of any summer intern for that matter, is my general schedule. Starting my internship about two weeks after classes ended definitely resulted in a dramatic shift in my schedule. Instead of spending only a few hours a day either in class or doing intermittent reading, writing, or studying, a day to day job is obviously significantly more structured. I currently work from 9:30 AM to 6 PM, which requires a different set of focusing skills than the much shorter, sporadic college class and class work schedule does. However, one of the biggest perks of having that structured schedule around me is the idea that once I leave work, I’m done with all of it for the day. I’ve accidentally left work documents open on my laptop over the weekend, which my supervisor noticed on a Saturday and emailed me telling me to stop working, as it was not expected of me and in fact discouraged. In response, I told her that I was not working on the document and that I had only left it open for convenience sake come Monday morning. To further add to this encouragement of separating work and personal life, our Executive Director encouraged his staff, myself included, to take time off this summer, noting its importance towards having productive, happy employees.
This summer I’m working in Washington, D.C. as a Development Intern with The Fairness Project, a nonprofit organization that works on ballot initiatives that elevate economic fairness in the United States. I started working at TFP less than a week after I left Dickinson’s campus, and moved to D.C. the day before I started my job. While I only had a small amount of time off between school and work, this summer I’ve been energized by the staff that I work with as well as the strong office culture that they’ve created. On my first day, the staff welcomed me with a donut at my desk, which I couldn’t eat because I have Celiac Disease, but the gesture was appreciated and made me excited for the work that I would be doing over the course of the summer.
In terms of how I found my internship, I was searching on indeed.com for internships involving my major (Political Science) that combine with my interest in political campaigns and nonprofit work. The Fairness Project stood out to me because their work is incredibly impactful, as of writing they’ve put a total of $4.74 billion in workers’ pockets, mostly through raising the minimum wage in states. I also could tell through their job listing that while much of the work that they do is very serious and demanding, they also make it fun (they listed a sense of humor as something that they looked for in candidates). After submitting my resume and cover letter to TFP, I heard back from them asking for an interview. After my interview, they asked me for references and within a few weeks of applying they offered me the position of Development Intern.
Concerned about how I would be able to live in D.C. for the summer without a significant source of income, I applied for an internship grant from Dickinson. The internship grant I’ve received not only makes it easier for me to pay for food and rent, but it also allows me to not work a paying job in August (after I complete my internship) and instead potentially work on a political campaign for a short amount of time. So far this summer has been great, I’ve learned a significant amount about how development works on a broad scale and also how organizations like The Fairness Project raise funds in a competitive environment, which I will certainly discuss in future blog posts.