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Create Paid Internships to Benefit the Organization and the Intern

Create Paid Internships to Benefit the Organization and the Intern

The 2021 school year is getting off the ground, and with it are internships. According to a study by SmallBizGenius, 60 percent of students in their graduating class since 2013 have participated in an internship and/or co-op at some point in their educational journey, and for a good reason. Internships have immense value to students, providing real-world experience and mentorship, as well as kick-starting their careers. Organizations of all sizes, both for-profit and nonprofit, also have a lot to gain in creating a solid internship program. 

The Importance of Internships for Organizations

Interns can fill essential gaps at your organization. The work they can do can help boost team efficiency and offer a new outlook. An intern’s perspective can increase diversity of thought, prompting innovation and helping find new ways to solve challenges that ultimately enhance your organization’s overall performance. 

Internships also are a great way to expand your workforce without launching a full search for a new employee. This can help save time and money in recruiting costs. If an intern fits well into your organization and mission, you can help build employee loyalty before they have been asked to join your team full-time. Whether you are looking to expand your team permanently or you’re looking for short-term help while offering experience to young professionals, an internship is a great way to deliver on your organization's mission. 

Providing a positive experience to students and young professionals can enhance the reputation of your organization and build lifelong supporters. Interns who have experienced a welcoming environment and have seen staff and volunteers living out your mission will create enthusiasm for your organization that can live on well after an internship ends. 

Setting the Stage for Success

While internships are no doubt beneficial to employers, they are equally valuable to those who take part in them and have a lasting impact when done right. Students who take part in an internship are 15% less likely to be unemployed in their first years after college, according to SmallBizGenius. To give students the best chance at excelling in their field, it’s important not to take advantage of their time and talent by giving them menial tasks, like fetching coffee for the C-suite. 

  • If possible, assign dedicated projects that they can own either entirely on their own or in which they can work with a team to solve a real business problem.
  • Build in opportunities to present to and to meet with leadership. 
  • Let them create something they’ll be proud to add to their portfolio and resume for future employment opportunities.

In addition to building a portfolio, young professionals and students get to put into practice the classroom concepts they are learning in college. This allows them to interact and learn what their field of study entails in the professional world. In turn, this also helps develop their knowledge of what collaboration, business etiquette, and communication look like outside of the learning environment. Internship programs give students the ability to grow their character, including integrity, commitment, and self-motivation.

Internships have the power to give young professionals a pool of employment references who can speak to their work ethic and abilities and help provide a more well-rounded educational experience. By structuring your internship to benefit both the intern and the company, employers who offer internship programs are in a unique position to assist those entering the workforce with long-term career development.

Structuring Your Internship Program

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), today’s internship program must be engaging, provide real-world experience, and deliver a paycheck. Because the primary goal of an internship program is to prepare students for working in their field outside of the classroom, it’s important to give students an opportunity to make a difference with meaningful work. In an internship, students should get practical experience, mentorship, a start in building their professional network, and a variety of experiences that lead to personal and professional growth and development. 

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Some questions that may help you determine what kind of internship will work best for your organization are: 

  • What do you hope your organization will gain from the internship?
  • What will the internship encompass? Are you looking to fill one specific need, help with a significant project, or will it entail a variety of small projects?
  • What tools and workspace will be needed for the intern?
  • What experience, talents, or academic background do you want your intern to bring to the table?
  • Who will be responsible for overseeing the work the intern does? Will they solely be a mentor, supervisor, or both?
  • How can we maximize the benefit to the student participating in our internship? What key projects can they be involved with, and to what capacity?

Establishing these key points before starting the recruiting process will help you find the right candidates. 

After establishing what type of internship program your organization will offer, create a structure, starting with the application process. Steps include:

  • Start the application, screening, and interview process.
  • Conduct an orientation for the intern.
  • Develop and outline organizational and personal goals with the intern. 
  • Set up regular meetings to provide feedback and constructively evaluate their performance. This will allow you to give positive and constructive feedback.

The Importance of Paying Your Intern

Interns provide valuable support to organizations and should be paid for their contributions. Not paying interns for their work could exacerbate socioeconomic inequities, particularly for women and students of color. “Lacking significant household wealth, families of color in particular often struggle to ensure their child doesn't go into debt for college or working an unpaid internship. As a result, these students leave school with a less comprehensive resume than their peers who were able to take various internships throughout college,” The American Prospect (TAP) said. 

Further, according to a study by TAP, women are 77% more likely than men to have an unpaid internship, and unpaid positions are thought to reinforce the racial wealth gap. “An unpaid internship could mean a student from a low-income background may not have the financial resources to cover the housing, transportation, meal, and other costs that come with accepting an unpaid opportunity. These costs are often in addition to the thousands of dollars students pay to their universities for required internship academic credits,” the nonprofit partner Classy states on its website.

Listed below are additional benefits to paying your intern an equitable stipend:

  • Attracting the best. Intern candidates are frequently college students. They’re discovering their value and what they have to offer while gaining real-world experience. Competitive candidates are going to seek out paid internships, and online resources like and Glassdoor help interns find companies that offer interns pay for their work.
  • Avoiding conflicts down the road. Today, employers are facing the backlash of taking advantage of unpaid interns after the U.S. Department of Labor laid out the framework for unpaid internships. Organizations and employers alike can benefit by having a structured internship program to avoid conflict down the road. 
  • It helps interns take the program seriously. Offering pay is a great way to get interns motivated about what they are doing, and they are more likely to treat the opportunity like a real job with tangible benefits both for them and the organization. Paid internships, in general, give employers more flexibility when assigning projects and gives the interns ownership of their work. 
  • It makes them a part of the team. By paying your intern, it shows them you recognize their value. This can go a long way, as interns who feel they are a part of the team will participate more. 

There are numerous factors when establishing pay for an internship. Perhaps the most important consideration is legality. The U.S. Department of Labor has established regulations to help you determine whether your internship program qualifies for paid or unpaid status. Since many students need an income, it’s best practice to pay at least minimum wage and more if you’re able. If you’re not offering pay, be sure to incorporate value in other ways, such as college credit, more flexible work arrangements, or a scholarship to help offset their educational expenses.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when establishing pay:

  • Wages for most internships are determined before the intern is hired and are not usually negotiable.
  • Be consistent. Pay a consistent wage across the board for your internship program. 
  • Pay structures often vary by location, industry, and size of the organization. Keep this in mind as you develop your program. 

If your organization doesn’t have the budget for an internship program, consider getting creative with funding, such as by partnering with community revitalization programs or colleges and universities in your area. Often, these groups have a vested interest both in developing the workforce and providing opportunities to students. 

Get the Process Going

With college students going back to school and actively seeking work experience to boost their resumes, now is a great time to start the process of creating or further developing your internship program. While it takes time and effort, the payoff can be great for both parties both now and down the road. 


Impact Opportunity would like to thank Karen Butterfield for her work in writing this article. Karen is the Founder of KE Butterfield, LLC., a communications firm. Prior to launching the company, Karen served as a Director of Communications for an executive recruiting firm and spent nearly a decade as a reporter and editor for an award-winning community newspaper and publishing company. During her tenure there, Karen earned more than a dozen state and national awards for her work. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Webster University in St. Louis.