social enterprise

How to Use Empathy to Make a Social Impact

For a lot of us, when we think of selling, the word “empathy” doesn’t come to mind. In fact, for many in the cause-focused space, particularly nonprofits, selling (just like marketing) is a bit of a bad word. However, it shouldn’t be.

If you have something that someone else needs or wants, isn’t that a good thing? That’s where it all begins.

Today, one of my spring interns, Rima Patel, is going to share how empathy intersects with the sales process, particularly the selling of products. I think this will not only be insightful, but good news for many of you.

You’re already leading a nonprofit, social enterprise, or other for-profit doing good, which means that empathy is at the core of what you do. This post will take it one step further, allowing you to see how empathy can be the glue that holds your triple bottom line together.

How to Use Empathy to Make a Social Impact

No one will deny that the key to creating a successful product is by thinking like the consumer. Putting yourself into their shoes and figuring out what they want can help make your great idea even more desirable. This concept is not unfamiliar to us; in fact, it’s something we aim to practice in our day-to-day lives. Whether it’s individuals trying to build strong relationships or cause-focused organizations trying to connect with consumers, empathy is essential.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Empathy is the difference between feeling for someone and feeling with them. Acknowledging feelings from shared experiences connects us as humans, beyond all the ways in which we separate ourselves—and that’s special. So special that it has the power to change lives and make an impact.

Maybe you’re an entrepreneur and you want your consumers to have an emotional connection to your product. Maybe you’re a nonprofit and you are trying to fix a social issue by inspiring others. Or maybe you’re a social enterprise and you just want to do more good. How can you use empathy to make a social impact?

Empathy can push you to create solutions that help others, but it can also push others to help you and your cause.

Empathy in the design process

A human-centered approach to innovation

Design thinking is a popular process that many social enterprises use today to creatively solve problems and make social impacts. This process takes a human-centered approach and involves five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

This semester, my Intro to Entrepreneurship professor decided to focus her class around the design thinking process, giving us the task of creating a product that would help solve the issue of climate change on campus. After the project was over, in a class with almost 300 students, we all came to the same general consensus: the empathize stage was the most important.

At first, many of us had a lot of great ideas, but the empathize stage made us quickly realize that our ideas could be better.

We all knew the problems associated with climate change and we all knew the different methods to prevent it, but what we didn’t know was how much people were actually willing to do. We found that college students want to help the environment, but don’t want to go out of their way to do it. You’ve probably seen something similar with your audience.

We realized that methods requiring the consumer to take some action like using water refill stations or compost bins don’t go as far as methods that don’t require the consumer to take an action, like putting motion detector lights in dorms. Creating the most value for our consumer requires using empathy to understand the best way to solve the problem.

The empathize stage not only helped us understand the consumer and how they felt about the issue to make the most efficient product, but helped us understand what steps they might actually take. Without empathy, our product might have ended up useless, unrealistic, and ultimately unsuccessful.

So, how do you use empathy in the design process? The first step is to ask questions.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you know about the problem?

  • What do you not know?

  • What are your assumptions?

Then ask others:

  • How do they feel about the problem?

  • How does it impact their life?

  • What are they willing to do about it?

These insights will help you understand the problem, who is involved, and how you might go about solving it in a way that brings others into the process for a more successful solution.

We all have great ideas that we want to see come to life, but if we want to be as successful as we can, it’s necessary that we open our ideas to other perspectives. Using empathy, you can see what would work and what would not, how people react to and feel about your ideas, and how to make them better.

There are many solutions to a problem, but the best solution is the one that begins with empathy.

Consumer empathy

Stop marketing products, start marketing feelings

Today, consumer empathy has become quite popular because companies are starting to realize its impact. If people have an emotional connection to a product, they are far more likely to buy it. If people share the same feelings as an organization, they are far more likely to support it.

Consumer empathy makes people feel less like consumers and more like humans, and that appeal is strong enough to make a positive impact on businesses and on the world.

Consumer empathy involves not only understanding the desires and struggles of the consumer, but also sharing those feelings with them. A great example of consumer empathy is a commercial for Cardstore by American Greetings in 2014. In order to promote their website, American Greetings sparked a common, shared feeling—the love we have for our mothers—and used it to help the audience create an emotional attachment with the brand. With this commercial, American Greetings was marketing a feeling, not a product.

Another great example is TOMS, a shoe company that built its brand on the concept that for every pair of shoes sold, there was also a pair given to a child with no shoes. Growing up, I remember seeing so many TOMS flags hanging up in bedrooms. Why were people so inclined to hang a shoe brand up on their wall?

The flag represented a feeling, an emotional attachment to the product, and a sense of pride for doing something good. TOMS recognized the power of making every person who purchased their shoes feel like they made a significant impact, and were part of a solution to a big problem. Today, TOMS continues to use consumer empathy to discuss other important social issues, like gun violence.

Now, it might seem like empathy is an obvious tool for marketing products. Of course thinking like the consumer is necessary for creating something that is valuable and relevant to them. Unfortunately, many companies still lack this skill.

Pepsi, for example, aired a commercial in 2017 amidst the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. The commercial involved Kendall Jenner joining an ambiguous protest and sharing a Pepsi with a police officer, sparking unity and excitement among everyone. Pepsi received severe backlash, taking down the ad several days later, and responses to the commercial gave a clear understanding as to why. A former organizer for BLM said, “No one is finding joy from Pepsi at a protest.” Bernice King, daughter of MLK Jr., tweeted, “If only daddy knew the power of #Pepsi.” To make things worse, the face of the ad was a rich, white supermodel who has no history of being an advocate for BLM, or any other social issue for that matter. Pepsi failed to understand their consumers and how they feel about the issue, which is what made the ad unsuccessful.

So, what did Pepsi do wrong? Pepsi’s commercial was trying to ignore the problem. Its message does not fall far from, “Why can’t we all just get along?” It provides a “solution” without actually acknowledging the existing problem of police brutality that some black people face everyday in America.

Empathy goes beyond just understanding someone's feelings; it requires learning to share them, too. Pepsi attempted to use a current, popular trend in social justice to promote their brand and make more money. Their mistake was leaving out empathy, and it was a mistake they could have avoided had they taken more time to know their consumer.

Using empathy in marketing involves understanding how your consumer feels, but it also involves understanding how your consumer will react. How do they want to feel, and can you make them feel that?

Using empathy to create social change

How feelings can change the world

The beauty of empathy is that it affects all of us.

Whether we are selling or buying the idea, it makes us all feel something. Empathy reminds us that we are all human and that we share experiences and feelings. It has been a tool used around the world to make individual problems feel universal.

Empathy allows consumers to feel like they are being heard and understood, that they are not alone, and that there are people out there trying to solve their problems. It sparks inspiration and motivation for people to work towards the things they care about.

As entrepreneurs and innovators, it is essential that we practice empathy in all aspects and phases of our projects—from idea to design to marketing. So, ask questions and open your ears. Understand who you’re working with and what they’re feeling.

Remember that empathy involves shared experiences, so remind yourself of your feelings and why you got involved with your cause to begin with. Keep in mind that the product or the profit isn’t special, but the feeling it invokes and how those feelings might eventually change the world is.

Developing Your Empathy Muscle

Empathy 101

One question that may have come up in reading this post might be something like, “Is it necessary to have empathy if others around me already do?”

In other words, is access to others with empathic skills just as valuable as learning those skills for yourself? In my opinion, no. Empathy is a skill we want to individually develop because it is a skill we can use in all aspects of our lives, not just work.

Having access to others with empathy is a great way to learn empathy; however, relying on others for empathy to make your ideas better only limits yourself.

Empathy isn’t just meant to benefit your business. It can be the very thing that motivates and inspires you when approached with a challenge or failure. Learning and practicing empathy puts things into perspectives you might never see otherwise, and that’s an important skill everyone should try to have.

If you want to develop more empathy, here are four recommendations:

  • As mentioned, hang out with people who have empathy. Surround yourself with people who challenge you to improve.

  • When you are around people who are more empathetic than you, ask questions that will help you understand their perspective and how they identify with the emotions of others.

  • Read more literature. According to research, fiction can make you more empathic and improve your EQ, or emotional intelligence.

  • Travel to new places. Putting yourself in unfamiliar environments and around different cultures is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and develop an appreciation for others.


Rima Patel

I’m Rima Patel, an upcoming senior at North Carolina State University, majoring in Sociology with minors in Business Administration and Nonprofit Studies. My ultimate goal in life is to do good and help people, and right now I’m doing that through marketing for nonprofits.

I hope to make significant impacts on social issues through innovation and social entrepreneurship.

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Empathy can push you to create solutions that help others, but it can also push others to help you and your cause.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.


Your Budget: Go From Cursing to Championing

One of the reasons I love inviting guests to post on this blog is so that they can talk about topics that I probably wouldn’t address myself. And right at the top of that list is budgets! Numbers are something I always struggled with in school (while I excelled in English), so it’s better for both of us that I stick to what I’m good at.

Enter Steve Fredlund. He and I met several months ago in a Facebook Group, and when I saw that one of his areas of focus was budgeting and money management for nonprofits and small businesses, I jumped at the chance to feature his expertise.

I really loved the way Steve talks about “transformational” budgeting in this post, and think it will not only shed some light, but challenge your social impact organization to value money differently in the process.

Your Budget: Go From Cursing to Championing

BUDGET. A 6-letter swear word to many nonprofit leaders and small business owners. It’s about penny-pinching and the restricting of ability to get things done. It’s the mechanism by which a number-crunching, introverted analytic hinders team creativity. Right? 

Yes. Because most of us see it this way, this is precisely what it becomes. Consider how budget discussions and approval are communicated in your organization. For many, it sounds something like, “Well, it’s that exciting time to set the budget again,” or “Sorry, guys and gals, we have to work on the budget,” or “Let’s get the budget stuff done so we can get on to the real stuff we need to talk about.” 

Why You Need to Rethink Budgets

Budget communication both reflects AND creates culture. It gives insight into leadership perspectives on budget, which gives insight into how leaders think about budgeting as a potential tool to move the organization forward. And usually, budget communication is extremely negative or, at minimum, apathetic. But your cash flow is an asset and it is your responsibility to leverage that asset as effectively as possible in support of the overall mission and strategic priorities of your organization. Anything short of that is a suboptimal use of one of your biggest assets, and is a gap in your overall leadership. 

Your finances carry vast amounts of potential energy, just waiting to get released. Your job as a leader is to recognize the full potential energy and release it to maximize achievement of the vision and strategic priorities. I want to encourage you to shift your paradigm about finances—to recognize that great organizations are able to fully release their power and leverage it for success.


3 Budgeting Exercises for Social Impact Organizations

Here are three things you can do to increase the value of your budgeting process, while also changing your perspective about the role of finances in your nonprofit or social enterprise:

  1. Strategy-based budget.  List out all of your major strategies, goals, or initiatives. Then assign each a percentage (totaling 100%) indicating how you WISH all of your available funds were allocated. Do this without regard to your knowledge of the current budget and only consider non-fixed costs. Basically, you are saying, “This is how I wish all of our discretionary spending was allocated.” Then, take this to your finance team and ask them to complete this exercise with the actual spending; have them include a bucket somewhere for the “fixed costs,” and with all remaining expenses, have them allocate out to the same categories you defined. Compare what you find. Eventually, I encourage organizations to create budgets starting first with developing a desired allocation of resources and then building the budget; but for now, this exercise will provide insight into any major disjoints in spending. It will also help you realize how many of your expenses are fixed, to see if there is any way to move spending into discretionary.

  2. Gain outsider perspectives.  An interesting exercise is to give your current budget (or actual spending) to several people unfamiliar with your organization and ask them what they think your vision and priorities based on your budget. You can get tremendous insight from this exercise. This is similar to having new people to come into your building or office and ask what they think your priorities are based on your environment; it creates fascinating discussions.

  3. External research. It’s amazing to me that very few nonprofits and social enterprises have an understanding of how similar organizations are allocating their budgets. I ask, “How does this compare to your competitors?” or “How does this compare to similar nonprofits?” and rarely do they know. Comparing to others can provide great insights, not only for competitive advantage, but to start the conversations about how you could become more effective in your spending.

 There are many more considerations in maximizing your financial investments, and improving the perception of the role of budgeting, but these three are a good start. How you spend your money is more than just a necessary evil. It is as important as the staff you hire, connections you make, and products or services you provide. Every dollar of your revenue is an asset; are you investing it in a way that maximizes your impact or helps you best reach your goals?

Avoid the 5% Rule

When the next budget cycle comes up, consider avoiding the typical process that simply adds 5% to every budget item from last year. This is the central mistake in budgeting for impact; to start with what has been done in the past and making minor tweaks. Using the prior budget to determine the next budget is akin to starting with current policies and procedures to set next year’s strategies.

If you want a transformational budget, then realize that the budget is an “output” and not an “input.”  The budget process starts with what you are ultimately trying to do (your vision, mission, or purpose). From there, you determine your key focus areas for the next one to three years, which leads to your key strategies and, ultimately, to the execution of those strategies. It is from these decisions that the transformational budget emerges. 

Imagine running a nonprofit helping to alleviate the issue of clean water in which 20% of last year’s budget supported efforts in Rwanda and 10% supported Nepal. There are some significant political and world relief changes resulting in far less need for the organization to continue working in Rwanda. Strategically, the organization decides it needs to move staff and facilities to Nepal, but the budget setting is based on last year and the funding to both Rwanda and Nepal is increased slightly, creating a huge disjoint in strategy and funding.

This may be a ridiculous example that would not actually happen in practice, but it’s only ridiculous because of the dramatic nature of the shift. How many smaller shifts are happening every year without the budget reallocation to support it? Many cause-focused organizations know the areas they need to move focus toward, but most use a “last year plus” method for budgeting. The end result will always be a disjoint between impact and financial support.

As a social impact organization, take time to celebrate every dollar coming in. These funds are more than just “money;” they represent the opportunity to have impact. But the ball is now in your court. What are you going to do with that opportunity? The more impact you can have, the more opportunity you will attract; and conversely, the poorer you manage your opportunity, the less opportunity you will have. 


Get Excited About Budgeting

Get excited about strategizing how those funds can be used to maximize impact or profitability. Have leadership discussions that start first with your vision, mission, priorities, and strategies, considering how to optimize movement toward their achievement using your finances. Think less about budget constraints and think more about budget opportunities.

When you have a budget that is lined up with your overall strategies, it generates creativity among each budget manager to truly optimize those funds to carry out their strategies. Further, having a budget aligned with strategies creates peace of mind for leadership (and all stakeholders), knowing that all assets are working together to carry out the desired impact of the organization.

Start seeing budget and finances differently, and you will be on your way to leveraging it most effectively—to maximizing your impact; to achieving your vision.

If I can be of any assistance, feel free to give me a shout at steve@stevefredlund.com or 651.587.5435. You can find out more about me at stevefredlund.com. 


Steve Fredlund

Steve Fredlund, FSA, MBA, SWP has 30 years of experience in Fortune 500 companies in primarily financial and analytical roles, with another 10 years in nonprofit roles including staff, board, founder, executive, and volunteer. He currently does independent consulting, coaching, and speaking focusing on small businesses and nonprofits. Steve helps individuals and organizations clearly define what success means to them, and then figure out how to get there. More information is available at stevefredlund.com.

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Here are three exercises to increase the value of your budgeting process, while also changing your perspective about the role of finances in your nonprofit or social enterprise.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.


Building Better Content: How to Improve on Social Media

We’re continuing our theme of content marketing for the month, and this week we’re focusing on one teensy, tiny thing (joking, it’s huge): social media! Love it or hate, it it’s here to stay! So, we might as well learn our way around it and benefit from it.

Social media marketing is a huge part of content marketing. Why? Because you can quickly and easily use social media platforms to advertise and share content to your target audiences.

Over 70% of Americans are using social media! Not to mention pretty much everywhere else in the world. These platforms are massive and they literally help you reach millions of people. This is where you need to be spreading your message and promoting your business or organization, and you need to do it right.

The content you share on social media has the ability to attract your target audience and turn them into loyal customers or supporters. That’s why this is so important. It’s also the perfect opportunity to interact with your audience, whether it’s answering questions, addressing concerns, or just showing your appreciation!

Listening to your audience and understanding what they like and need will help you create more engaging and effective social media content. In turn, you'll improve your content marketing strategies and grow your nonprofit or social enterprise. But how? Let’s break down social media content marketing and the components you need to maximize your business exposure, easily.

Building Better Content: How to Improve on Social Media, content, marketing, SEO, blog

Your first step: conduct a content audit on all of your current social media platforms.

This is your starting point to building a better social media presence. You need to evaluate what you have already done, assess your strengths and your weaknesses, and determine how you can improve. A simple content audit will allow you to see what posts have performed best and what topics your audience likes most, eliminate posts that are outdated or no longer relevant, locate gaps in your content, and generate new ideas. The goal is to create better content and increase traffic.

This doesn’t have to take long, only an hour or so! It depends largely on how long your social history is, and how in-depth you’d like to go. Just sort through your social media profiles and evaluate what you’ve posted. Most social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, also have really helpful post and profile analytics, and data on business pages that you can take advantage of. These usually show you how posts are doing in terms of likes, reach, engagement, etc.

It’s also important to look at how often you are posting. If you have a social media profile linked on your website that you rarely if ever touch, it’s probably a good idea to remove it! You don’t necessarily have to delete it, but you don’t want to promote something if your last post was four months ago….or let’s be honest, four years ago. So, let it go!

Developing a simple content plan for your social media profiles will also save you time and stress.

After you conduct your audit, we also recommend starting some sort of spreadsheet for current and future social media posts, if you haven’t already. Or a calendar! Here’s a good example from Curata. This is a more broad, long-term plan setup for content ideas, but it’s still good starting point.

Content Plan for Social Media, Blog, SEO, organization

This will help keep you organized and serve as a great reference tool should you ever need to go back and quickly and easily find a post. To go more in depth, I recommend creating a spreadsheet for each platform and then listing the date of the post, the content, and any links or outside sources you included. It doesn’t have to be super complicated, however, you can also add analytics later such as how many people were reached, the number of likes, etc. Knowing any of this information will make future audits easier, too!

Laying all your content out in a spreadsheet will help you see what items, events, holidays, etc., your organization needs to promote at a glance. Then you can fill in any gaps with more day-to-day, behind the scenes, or fun posts that also fit with your brand. Here’s another simple example of an Instagram plan for a service-based business.

To help develop your plan, ask yourself a few questions. What are your goals? Is it to get the viewer to visit your website? Do you want to gain more email subscribers? Do you need more donations, or more sales? What do you want the overall tone of your profile to be? Funny and lighthearted? Serious and issue-oriented? What kind of content does your audience want? Is it mainly photos, text, or videos (I’d definitely recommend using them all.)?

These questions will also help you generate content ideas. Figure out the answers and let that drive your content creation. Brainstorm ideas and get them in writing, then develop them further.

If you’re still stuck on what kind of content to post, here are some ideas:

  • Guest takeovers: Have someone on your staff or that you know talk about a relevant topic to your business/organization, something they are an expert in, or if they are an influencer, they can draw new fans to you with their perspective on your work.

  • How-to posts: Share helpful tips and advice with your audience.

  • Behind-the-scenes: Give your audience a look into the background of your business or nonprofit. This makes you more personable and approachable, too!

  • Do a Q&A session live on Facebook, Twitter, or on an Instagram Story. Be sure to engage with audience!

  • Create visuals like infographics to demonstrate how your business or nonprofit is making a change. Quotes are always popular, too.

  • Video is enormously popular right now, whether it’s live or recorded. Talk about your mission, show off your work, introduce your team, promote your events...the possibilities are endless!

  • Reuse and recycle: Are there previous pieces of content like blogs, videos, interviews, podcasts, etc., that you haven’t promoted in a long time? Or maybe they only lived on your website and never made it to social? See what you already have available that should still the light of day again.

  • Conduct a poll: This is another great way to interact with your audience and get their feedback. Facebook and Instagram Stories offer built-in polls you can use, making it super easy.

  • Show your viewers what a day in the life looks like for you or for another key member of your nonprofit or social enterprise. You can do this via photos, video, or story!

  • Share your favorites: This could include books, podcasts, movies, products, another business...anything you think your audience will like or benefit from! Give some recommendations!

It’s a good idea to mix evergreen and timely content. Evergreen content is content that stays fresh and relevant for a long period of time. Like an evergreen tree, it never dies. Timely content is content revolved around more short-term situations that won’t be relevant in a few months. For example, a holiday, event, fundraiser, promotion, etc., would all be considered timely content.

Both types of content are important. Timely content shows what you are actively doing and evergreen content will always be useful. You can continue to repost and repurpose it. A good rule of thumb here is the 80/20 rule. Eighty of your content is evergreen, 20% is timely.

Speaking of time...

Consistency is key in social media content.

You have to make sure you can stay consistent in developing and putting out content on social media. If you don’t, people will forget you or won’t even bother following you. You have to stay on their minds and in their feeds.

I know this may seem daunting and overwhelming—there are so many platforms to keep up with! However, I think it’s better to consistently keep up with just a few, strong platforms than to try to keep up with all of them, spreading yourself too thin, and then end up neglecting some. So, pick a few that work for you and your audience and make them your babies.

The most used social media sites right now are Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. These are the four I would recommend keeping up with and building a presence on. Familiarize yourself with these platforms and what they can do for you and your business. Here’s a quick guide.

You also need to determine where your specific target audience hangs out the most, though. That may differ from business to business. Try to see where your audience congregates and then make those platforms your top priority.

In terms of how many times a day or week you should post and when, this also varies by platform.

 

According to the Content Marketing Institute, posting on Facebook once or twice a day, monitoring Twitter all day, and spending time each day on LinkedIn is the best.

Studies also show that at a minimum you should post three times a week to Facebook. Once a day is optimal, but you can build. Three times a day on Twitter is the minimum, 15 is optimal, and 30 is maximum. You want to post about three pins a day to Pinterest, twice to once a week on LinkedIn, and post once to three times a day on Instagram. Again, you can always start at the minimum and build up from there once you get the hang of it. Find what works for you!

As far as times of day goes, here is a good article on the best days and times to post to each social media site. I would also highly recommend setting up a social media calendar or using a scheduling tool like Buffer, Smarterqueue, or Hootsuite.

These tools will make your life so much easier. You just write your social media post, add an image or video, schedule a day and time, assign it to a profile, and you’re done! No more worries, it’ll just automatically post to your profile when you scheduled it to. Here’s more on that.

See, social media isn’t so scary anymore, is it? You just have to determine your audience, find what works best for the both of you, and then get organized. Once you start brainstorming and getting the hang of things, you’ll be surprised how quickly ideas flow!

But, again, the point here isn’t to overwhelm you. It’s to help you evaluate what you’ve done so far, make a plan for the future, and start posting great content consistently. Your consistency may be slow right now, and that’s fine. But creating a schedule and plan to follow will help you and your followers.

Social media content marketing: check. Come back next week to learn more about maximizing your blog!

 

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Building Better Content: How to Improve on Social Media

Megan Westbrook

Megan Westbrook holds a B.A. in journalism with a focus in public relations and a minor in Spanish from Georgia State University. An aspiring writer, her interests reside in blogging, social media, content creation, design, and photography. She is also a passionate social justice advocate and interested in nonprofit or cause-focused work. Megan is currently a receptionist at Servcorp in Atlanta, Georgia. 


Three Simple Steps in the Quest to Find Your Ideal Intern

Last week, you heard from my intern, Megan, on four reasons why interns are motivated to help you. Are you convinced? I sure was! (And if you haven't check it out yet—yes, she does address the question of money!)

This week, you're getting the follow-up by my second intern, Michael. We've talked about the WHY, and now we'll hit you with the HOW. I'm not sure which of those two questions resonates with you when you're thinking about an intern, but hopefully, we'll provide you with the answers needed to take that next step.

I've only had Megan and Michael for about a month, and am already so thankful for them. So, do yourself a favor and go get an intern (or two). Not sure how? Just keep reading!

Three Simple Steps in the Quest to Find Your Ideal Intern

It’s the end of February and the New Year has already gifted us all with a handsomely exhaustive list of responsibilities…

Social media drafts are long overdue, email updates stack a mile high, and blog posts eagerly await an obligatory glimpse. Somewhere in the sewage of this chaos, you also discover that your most urgent and time-sensitive tasks are often the very ones which you’ve neglected.

But, SUDDENLY, you have an epiphany—you don’t have to do this all on your own! What if you had a helping hand? After all, for every Batman exists a Robin, for every Scooby a Shaggy, and for every Cher a respective Sonny.

What if . . . you had an intern?

You may not be able to offer your intern a salary, but you have compensation in the form of experience that they desperately desire. They can serve as more than a glorified coffee runner, and even play a crucial role in keeping your small business or nonprofit operating at optimum speed.

Finding an intern is actually less complicated than one might assume. There’s not one algorithm that will do the trick or one method superior to others, however, let’s explore three, overarching avenues that will aid your search.

Finding the right intern for your organization lies at the intersection of three avenues:

  1. An understanding of the qualifications for your intern role

  2. A correct and detailed intern position description

  3. An idea of where to find the best interns for your nonprofit or social enterprise

1. Outline your requirements for potential interns.

Think of the search for an intern as paving a yellow brick road that will steer the right candidates to the doors of your organization. If that’s the case, you should to be clear from both an academic and professional perspective so that the right person rings the doorbell.

This begins with you carefully outlining prerequisites including educational achievements (high school, GRE, undergraduate and graduate), portfolio samples you may want to see, and prior work experience. One company might be looking for tenured university seniors with previous agency experience, while others are looking for malleable minds that are eager to learn. The choice is yours, however, you cannot expect more, and receive less, without setting expectations. In turn, you might also discover that you have hired an intern whose skills and talents far exceed the amount of work you have to offer them.

Just remember that it’s okay to be selective. An internship needs to be the right fit for both parties.

 

2. Create a clearly defined intern job description, including the benefits they’ll receive.

No one likes to be exclusive, however, in terms of finding the perfect intern, a certain degree of exclusivity needs to be shown. And just so that we don’t parallel the clique from Mean Girls, let’s put it this way—it’s not them, it’s you.

Be open to students with skills and attributes that may be uncommon for your line of work, however, don’t be deceptive in a job description. If they are looking for a for-profit sales role and you work strictly in nonprofit fundraising, they might not be the right fit. Again . . . that’s okay!

So how do you ensure that your role or program is a right fit for the applicant? Before you begin soliciting resumes, clearly define and outline job standards and provide candidates with an overview of the program in which they’ll be participating. And if your internship provides certifications, credits, or payment, be sure to list these in the job description, too.

Finally, be specific in the language you use to describe the internship. Good candidates don’t often migrate toward listings that use generic language. Because internships can last a series of months (even entire semesters), potential interns want to know exactly what it is that they’ll be doing.

You may even want to look at other intern postings online to help you decide what to include.

 

3. Use the Internet and your existing network to help you find an intern.

Most of the individuals searching for an internship experience are students and young alumni. Because it’s likely that these individuals haven’t had extensive amounts of career experience, it’s easier to mold their talents and help them hone in on those they haven’t yet developed. And that should be exciting for both you and them.

To find your young Padawan, it’s essential to utilize the correct platforms. For now, we’ll focus on three outlets to aid your search: career centers, online postings, and personal networking.

Career Centers

The vast majority of large universities and colleges are outfitted with programs and facilities that provide their students with professional working opportunities. Some universities might call it a career centeror “services/development program. The jargon’s all a little different, but globally, the mission is the same—to find work experience, internships, and jobs for students and recent graduates.

Cast your eyes on the example of New York University, which operates the Wasserman Center for Career Development. This career center provides extensive lists of internship opportunities, jobs, and sound advice in the sojourn of career discovery.

My advice to you is to shoot for the stars! Contact every university career center in your respective city or state, and use those centers to network your way to great candidates. They can provide you with potential career fair dates, ensuring that you can speak with students in person, or potentially provide listings or direct links for your internship on their website.

As you build relationships with students and career centers, you’ll develop a steady stream of candidates through pre-existing relationships. And when students provide positive feedback about you to their career centers, you’re more likely to receive continuous and high-quality candidates. The other benefit of going through career centers is, of course, that they’ll often do the regular work of searching for your intern so that you don’t have to!

 

Online Postings

Remember, the interweb is a friend not a foe. This is an essential element to the success of finding your intern in the haystack.

To get even more specific, when looking for interns in university-level programs, go to the places they would go. Posting ads on Craigslist won’t likely aid you in the process of searching for an intern if the population you’re searching for isn’t using Craigslist.

Students and recent grads alike utilize a multitude of websites, some of the most popular being LinkedIn, Internships.com, and Handshake. LinkedIn proves to be a necessary networking tool for the duration of careers, as you probably already know. To ensure that you are fully utilizing LinkedIn, make sure to join groups with similar missions to promote your business and discover talent. I found this article particularly useful.

Additionally, in searching for interns, I’d insist on using websites like Handshake and Internships.com, which directly target college students and young alumni. Handshake specifically has access to over 8 million students and young adults, and more than 475 career centers. And Internships.com is the world’s largest student-focused internship marketplace, bringing students, employers, and higher education institutions together in one centralized location. Convenient, eh?

And should you wish to cast your net wider, many standard job posting sites like Idealist and Work For Good also allow for internship listings.

Personal Networks

Last but certainly not least, don’t underestimate the potential of your personal network. The people you already know may help you find your best interns.

It’s easiest to start with your friends and family. Put out the word that you’re looking for an intern, and see if they can help you fill the spot quickly. Just remember to include that clearly-defined intern job description, even when talking to people casually.

Next, post about the internship on your personal and professional social media outlets and in groups. This is a great, and fast, way to spread the word about your opportunity.

And a final example is the connections you have with clients or peers in the same field. More than often, students and young alumni are looking for more than one consecutive internship. One summer they might work for a for-profit manufacturer that produces burlap supplies for a local, nonprofit coffee shop. But next summer, that same intern wants to work at the coffee shop itself. So, reach out to your partners and colleagues for contacts.

With a little preparation and planning, you’ll find your dynamic duo. The Robin to your Batman. The Sonny to your Cher.

By the way, did you miss the first post on why an intern might want to help you? You can read it right here!


Michael Banks, Intern at Signify

Michael Griffith Banks is a fourth-year Public Relations Major at the University of Georgia with a minor in Spanish. He’s throughly involved with UGA’s Office of Admissions, most recently serving as an Orientation Leader for the University.



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Finding an intern can actually be less complicated than you might think.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.