Children's Voice Jan/Feb 2009

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Management Matters

Creating a Win-Win Internship

American Humanics partners with universities and nonprofits to facilitate internships and expand the workforce

By Richard Potter

Rachel Dotson found the less traveled career path to youth work through a part-time job with Middle Way House, a domestic violence shelter in Bloomington, Indiana, in 2004. Funded by Federal Work Study from her university, the experience affirmed Dotson's passion for working with children.

The staff at Middle Way House recognized her talents, knew she would fit in with the employees and residents, and offered her a full-time position. For the next three years Dotson led the agency's children's programming. She left last year to become director of program services for Girls Incorporated of Monroe County, Indiana, but Dotson didn't forget the way that she entered the field: She immediately went to work to recruit interns for their summer camp programs. "Interns get to know nearly every aspect of the organization," she says. "Even though they are here for a short time, when they leave they are real advocates for your organization, and a great talent pool when the time comes to hire someone full-time." One of Dotson's best sources for interns is the American Humanics program at Indiana University-Bloomington.

American Humanics (AH) is a national alliance of colleges, universities, and nonprofits dedicated to preparing and certifying future nonprofit leaders. The organization was founded in 1948 by H. Roe Bartle, a 30-year Boy Scout professional who later served two terms as mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, where AH is still based. He envisioned AH as a training and recruiting arm for the Boy Scouts, but he welcomed other youth and human service agencies' participation from the start.

Today AH is a blend of coursework and internship experience that prepares college students for careers with nonprofit organizations. Nearly 3,000 students enroll each year, typically in their junior year of college. They can usually complete the coursework requirements in tandem with the baccalaureate degree. Those who fulfill an internship at an approved agency earn the nationally recognized American Humanics certificate in nonprofit management and leadership.

Ann Yebei, intern Kim Mathews, and Destani Pence take a moment to pose for the camera at a Girls Inc. picnic. Mathews served as the teen program director during her internship, and would like to join Girls Inc. full-time after graduating college.

"A strong internship adds value to the education of the student," says Kala Stroup, President of American Humanics, Inc. "The experiential component is an essential element of the American Humanics certificate. We have been committed to the value of the internship since the very beginning."

In the last two decades AH has gone from working with 10 national nonprofit organizations and a dozen universities to its current size: The alliance includes nearly 70 academic partners and 22 core nonprofit partners, and AH also facilitates the Nonprofit Workforce Coalition. The key factor in this growth was a partnership formed in 1994 with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which had been exploring ways to make nonprofit studies more accessible to an ethnically diverse body of undergraduate students. A $2.5 million contribution from Kellogg, as well as $1.2 million from the David & Lucile Packard and Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundations, helped further AH's mission.

Internships: The Link Between College and Career

"Funds provided by Kellogg and other foundations helped American Humanics establish a solid curriculum and build a national presence," Stroup says. "With funding from the UPS Foundation we were able to publish The Nonprofit Career Guide, a first-of-its-kind textbook to help students of all ages envision their futures as nonprofit professionals. Our focus today is on helping nonprofits establish internship programs."

In The Nonprofit Career Guide, author and AH consultant Shelly Cryer highlights the National Association of Colleges and Employers' latest survey of recruiting practices, which found that employers offered full-time jobs to nearly two out of three of their interns, and that more than 70% of those offers were accepted. Nearly half of the interns came on board as full-time hires. Overall, employers reported that about 30% of all their new college-graduate hires from the Class of 2006 came from their own internship program.

Arizona State University American Humanics student Jessica Brzuskiewicz participated in a service project trip in Agua Prieta, Mexico, where students helped build houses.

"These figures are for all sectors combined," Stroup explains. "But nonprofits have some catch-up work to do. What if hospitals had no interns preparing to be future doctors? What if schools had no student teacher programs? A strong internship program is one of the best ways to recruit the right people to the right job and keep them there; it benefits the intern, the agency, and the sector as a whole."

Linda Maynard has always enjoyed working with children. In high school she worked as a babysitter, and in college as a youth counselor. Her interest in youth led her to the American Humanics program at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, where she earned the AH certificate and a bachelor's degree in youth agency management. To fill Missouri Valley's requirement for a 600-hour internship, Maynard chose to work at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri in the summer of 2005. Her main focus was the Amachi program, a statewide initiative to match children of incarcerated parents in one-to-one mentoring relationships with volunteers. Shortly after she completed the internship, Maynard's supervisor resigned. "I was invited to join the staff full-time, and basically designed my own job description," she says.

At Big Brothers Big Sisters, Maynard applied classroom learning in volunteer management to help reduce the time required to process an adult volunteer mentor, resulting in a shorter waiting list for children. She now oversees the entire waiting-list process for the local agency. Thanks to fundraising knowledge gained in college, she also manages a number of grants. Recalling her own successful internship experience, Maynard hired Mary Schroeder, a senior in the AH program at Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri, as a marketing intern last summer.

"One major hurdle that I'm still trying to clear is the cost of my education," Maynard says. "As a summer intern I worked 50 to 60 hours a week in order to meet the 600-hour requirement. Since the internship was unpaid, I had to take out student loans to cover my living expenses. Then I cashed in a 401K account to relocate to St. Louis." Maynard has no regrets; she loves her job and finds the work very rewarding. "But if there was a way to help interns and new hires cover living and relocation expenses, that would be a good thing."

The Affordable Internship

In response to such concerns, American Humanics introduced the NextGen Leaders program in January 2007. Funded in part by a $5 million grant from the Kellogg Foundation, NextGen is a competitive academic award that pays AH interns a $4,500 stipend upon completion of the internship. Over five years AH will award 1,000 NextGen Leader stipends. Of the 250 NextGen Leaders recognized thus far, nearly half are students of color.

"We invited Humanics to apply for this grant primarily with the AH students in mind, after learning that the unpaid internship is one of the biggest barriers to completing the AH certificate and joining the nonprofit workforce," explains Robert Long, recently retired Vice President of Philanthropy and Volunteerism programs with the Kellogg Foundation. "But a long range, secondary objective is to demonstrate to nonprofits that a well-managed internship program that pays a living wage is a good, long-term investment. It will improve both employee recruitment and retention."

Tomika Anderson, an AmeriCorps intern with the Student Conservation Association, helped teach hundreds of children about fire education and prevention at Camp Smokey at the Cal State Expo in Sacramento, California. Anderson now works for American Humanics.

The NextGen Leaders program complements the Ameri-Corps*ProCorps program, established in 2005, in which an AmeriCorps member receives a salary from the nonprofit agency plus an education award of up to $4,725 based on hours worked in an internship position. To qualify, the intern's activities must be focused on volunteer management or working with at-risk youth, and the internship site must be approved by American Humanics.

Kim Mathews, a junior at Indiana University--Bloomington, took advantage of both programs last summer. Working a total of 450 hours with Girls Inc. of Monroe County, Mathews earned $4,500 through NextGen and an AmeriCorps education award of $1,250.

"If I hadn't received NextGen and AmeriCorps funding I probably wouldn't have done the internship--it wouldn't have been financially feasible," Mathews says. "I probably would have ended up getting a regular full-time job."

Mathews is one of the interns Dotson hired through AH. Based on the internship experience, Mathews would like to work for Girls Inc. after graduation. "I feel like I grew so close to the organization. I knew going in that I really supported the mission and the goals and the vision," she continues. "But actually being there for as long as I was and getting to meet all of the girls, and the parents, and the other staff, and seeing how mission-based they were, it was very, very inspiring. I would definitely, definitely want to work there again."

The Girls Inc. internship is designed so that each intern gains experience planning and evaluating a specific program. "Kim was our teen program director," Dotson says. "She did a lot of research and made community connections to set things up for the teens, as well as just spending a lot of time with the girls and building those relationships. Kim took on a huge amount of responsibility for an intern."

The time spent making community connections has piqued Mathews' interest in fundraising. "One of my minors is fundraising and resource development," she says. "That's something that I think would be a really challenging but rewarding experience."

The internship was a win-win situation for Mathews and the agency. Dotson knows not all experiences will be so positive, but these exceptional successes lead her to wholeheartedly endorse the concept of nonprofit internships. Girls Inc. of Monroe County hosted three American Humanics interns last summer, according to Dotson. One of the interns learned a lot about the organization and enjoyed making community connections, but discovered that working with children is not one of her passions.

"Which is a wonderful thing to get out of an internship!" Dotson adds enthusiastically. Regardless of whether an internship leads to full-time employment, the intern gains experience, the agency gains an advocate, and the sector adds to its future nonprofit workforce. "I would be much more likely to hire someone from another community who had a similar internship on their resumé," Dotson says.

Like many nonprofit agencies, Girls Inc. of Monroe County does not budget for internship stipends or hourly wages. They try to take advantage of programs like NextGen, ProCorps, and Federal Work Study, but there is no guarantee that students with access to these funds will be available from year to year. "It would be so helpful if we knew that we could count on at least one intern per year so that we could budget our staff time with that in mind," Dotson says. "We're stretched pretty thin in fundraising, and it's challenging to find grants to fund staffing. But if grants were available, our staff would be very open to focusing those resources on the internship program."

There are no formal requirements for an agency to host an American Humanics intern. The key to generating interest is to promote the agency on campus. One of the best ways to get noticed by faculty and students is for a staff member to volunteer as a guest lecturer at an AH-related class or event. The AH website includes contact information for all affiliated colleges and universities.

Plans for the Future

The Kellogg funding for the NextGen Leaders program also includes a modest amount for program evaluation. In accepting the stipend, NextGen Leaders agree to maintain contact with AH for at least five years. "This will allow us to track career paths, identify weaknesses and strengths of the internships, determine which competencies are best developed through the internship, and promote best practices for recruiting and retaining a diverse, talented workforce," Stroup explains.

Based in Kansas City, American Humanics is part of a collaborative that includes leaders from William Jewell College, University of Missouri-Kansas City, and the local Council on Philanthropy. "One of our objectives is to create a training program for nonprofits that wish to establish an effective internship program," Stroup says. "The pilot program will help us develop a credential to demonstrate that a nonprofit agency's internship program consistently meets nationally recognized standards of excellence."

AH has made good progress at the national level, securing scholarship funds and drawing attention to the need to prepare next generation nonprofit leaders. The focus is now on the regional and local level, where the passion that drives the future leader intersects with the needs of the community. Mathews' experience with Girls Inc. illustrates what AH has in mind.

"There was a 9-year-old girl at summer camp who was terrified of the water, just absolutely terrified," Mathews recalls. She decided to try and help the little girl and test skills she had learned from college coursework in psychology and youth development. "To be honest, she had a lot of textbook, early childhood problems. She was kind of a complicated child to deal with," Mathews explains. "I managed to get her in to her ankles and I said, 'You know, maybe this is something that you can teach yourself this summer. Why don't we make it a goal that every time we come back you can go in a little bit further, just until you're comfortable, and we'll see what happens.'

The young girl agreed. Every week they would hold hands and go a little bit further into the water. By the end of the summer the girl was swimming without a life jacket, she passed her deep-water test, and she could go off the diving board and the slide.

"Seeing her accomplish that really inspired me," Mathews says. "Instead of telling her mom, 'Your daughter got into trouble again today,' being able to tell her, 'Your daughter learned to swim today, she took off her life jacket,' and just seeing how proud she was and how proud her mom was, it was so inspiring. If you want to make the biggest impact on people and help to shape society and make it a better place, the number one place to start is working with children."

Richard Potter is Vice President of Development and Communications at American Humanics. He can be reached at 816-561-6415, ext. 106, or American Humanics is located at 1100 Walnut Street, Suite 1900, Kansas City, Missouri. Call toll-free 800-343-6466, contact, or visit

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