Changed my life; forever grateful!
Three years ago, I was right out of college, working an office job, and missing the activism of my college years. I got a part-time, unpaid internship with a small, state-level pro-choice non-profit. I ended up staying for a year (while working full-time) and it changed my life personally and professionally and set me on a much more fulfilling career path. I did the not very exciting administrative work, of course, but I was also given opportunities to take on different responsibilities and projects. I was invited to events and meetings with staff and coalition members and given the chance to go the capital during the legislative session. I was introduced to staff and leadership in similar organizations, legislators, and board members, and was given professional training as well as resume, cover letter, and interview advice. They were always willing to answer my questions, explain their decisions, and offer constructive criticism on my work. After I’d been there a while, I was given support and resources to create my own multi-part project, which I supervised and completed with the help of other interns. I was always treated like a member of the team, not just the intern. Although they were too small to hire me, they were very supportive of and involved in my job search and went above and beyond to help me find work in the movement. I still keep in touch and volunteer with them often, and I’m forever grateful for the experience that helped me transition into the non-profit sector and find a career that really suited me. It wasn’t always fun and it wasn’t easy holding a full-time job and a part-time internship, but it was so worth it and I’m so happy with how it worked out. Now, I supervise my own interns and try to give them as good of an experience as I had!

What jobs?
I’m a college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree and a part-time job in the service sector. All the non-profits I have interned at are hiring now… for upper-level, executive positions. Which means that nobody’s getting promoted from within. Which means I have no chance of getting any kind of entry-level position, from a place that I invested a lot of unpaid time in. It’s absurd.

Respect our time.

I was referred by a friend to an internship at a famous feminist organization. I applied in December, so that I could apply in time to register for school credit. They didn’t hire me until February; and the internship was unpaid. But because this organization had such a good reputation, I stuck it out, and was eager to get a reference later on after graduation. But they made it impossible for me to stay.

I was expected to put in 20 hours a week. Because I worked 2 other part-time jobs and went to school full-time, I negotiated it down to 15 hours. I was given no lunch stipend, no transportation stipend, nothing from this prestigious organization. (They told me I could go to one of their orgasm workshops— for free! How quaint. It took place while I was at work.)

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I wasn’t learning anything. I was told I could go to workshops that my supervisors gave around the city. I was invited to none. Instead, they expected me to stay in the office, make copies and fill in Excel spreadsheets for 5 hours a day, 3 days a week. They made no effort to teach me anything about the organization. If I went to program meetings, I had to take off time from my paid job to attend them and take notes. I was losing money.

I put in my 2-weeks notice two weeks before finals week, and they just told me to leave that day. I had never felt so unappreciated and taken advantage of in my life. I’m a low-income student and they didn’t respect that. And sadly, I made this a priority to have this on my resume, but it’s all for naught; I quit early, and even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t trust my supervisor to give me a good recommendation for a job. She didn’t even try to get to know me, and never considered my hardship. Don’t intern for free, folks. Not even for feminists. It’s just not worth it.

There is no need for orgs to hide their flaws under a veneer of social justice.
My friend was fired from the org we both interned at this summer. She was keeping a blog detailing her critiques of the non-profit, especially in relation to the it’s shitty racial politics. When they found her blog, they immediately let her go. She was in shock, and I was furious. True, she violated the company’s confidentiality policy, but in the process her voice and opinions were effectively shut down. The org shamed and blamed her for “threatening” its good standing. They did not take responsibility for creating the conditions in which my friend felt alienated enough to resort to blogging. Her wisdom and knowledge were dismissed and her criticisms were swept under the rug. 

How inaccessible can you get?

I was forwarded an email about this internship opportunity today. It’s only for a) college students in NYC who b) have laptops and c) can work for free. How inaccessible can you get? Anyone should be able to apply for an internship, not just students with class privilege.

"Are you a smart girl who also knows what “smize” means? Do you read The New York Times’ op-ed page and sex tips in Cosmopolitan? Do you find both Hillary Clinton and Courtney Stodden strangely fascinating (but for entirely different reasons)? [We are] looking for two new interns for the fall semester — for credit only! — and you might just be the lady we need! We’re on the search for young Internet fiends who love pop culture, women’s issues, fashion and beauty. Interns will work in our New York City office and walk away at the end of our time together with tons clips. Future interns will have:

  • Past experience blogging
  • Spelling and grammar that won’t make your English teacher blush
  • Familiarity with the ladyblogosphere and what makes [us] unique
  • An RSS feed (and you know how to use it!)
  • Ability to generate funny, quirky, thoughtful and timely essay ideas
  • Two or more days per week to devote to an internship
  • Mandatory: a laptop you can bring to [our] New York City offices each day”

I was ignored because I wanted to challenge racism within the organization, and condescended to because I was an intern.
The org where I work is really white-centric. I’ve spoken up about a few times but my thoughts have not been well received by the leadership.  Recently, I sent a long email discussing the reasons why we need to ally with communities of color to the head of my department. The point of my email was to start a dialogue between someone on the “bottom” and someone on the “top.” But in the end, the head of the department ignored me.  Instead of acknowledging my comments, he had my direct supervisor respond to me. This incident was so typical: I was ignored because I wanted to challenge racism within the organization, and condescended to because I was an intern. When leadership disregards the opinions of its staff, it makes the staff feel like they don’t matter. It’s unbelievably frustrating and disappointing to have my thoughts dismissed at a place supposed to work towards equality and social justice.  

Thank you for starting to be my ally.
Like many interns, I’m often given the work no one else wants to do.  Not too many people care what I think about social justice, they just want me to update their spreadsheets and move on. But I have one colleague who, in the last few weeks, has treated me with respect. She’s told me multiple times that she would like to hear my opinion on her projects and we’ve actually had thoughtful discussions. So I’d like to take this opportunity to say, thank you. Thank you for being one person who understands that I’m not a copy machine, a file folder, or a Google search. Thank you for recognizing I have things to say and for listening to them. Thank you for looking beyond the hierarchy, bureaucracy, and business of this organization. Thank you for starting to be my ally.

Listen to young people of color, don’t just feature their smiling faces on your latest brochure.
Mainstream feminist organizations STILL have race problems. Period. That’s what I learned working at a large mainstream feminist non-profit this past summer. Besides  microaggressions I heard around the office regularly, the dismal lack of diversity in upper level positions, poor outreach to communities of color, what shocked and disappointed me the most was their ultra-defensive stance towards anyone who would try to bring up the “race issue”, especially if that person was a young intern. Calling out white-centric language at a meeting got you reprimanded for making an “inappropriate comment”, because you didn’t “understand how things worked around there”. Collectively pointing out racism by relating personal experiences and stories to each other was dismissed as “venting”, and “not productive”. And calling attention to the race of all the current and past presidents of the organization (white) was considered “disrespectful” and enough to get you fired. How are we supposed to make our social movements more inclusive, if we buy into a “culture of fear” and silence the people trying to promote some anti-racism? Stop being defensive. Confront privilege, and think intersectionally. Listening to interns will not make your organization crumble from within. Listen to young people of color and anti-racist allies, don’t just feature their smiling faces on your latest brochure. 

Give us a seat at the table.

Inclusivity has always been important to me, in both my personal and professional life. I want to feel like I’m part of a team, like my thoughts and opinions are considered. As an intern, this has been a huge issue. After three internships at feminist non-profits, I’ve found that interns are often excluded from the daily conversations that shape an organization (meetings, emails chains, decision making processes) as well as the once-a-year opportunities that make it all worthwhile (events and conferences). At my first internship, a camp counselor position, interns couldn’t attend daily meetings because a few of us had to watch over campers. My supervisors could never find a creative solution—wouldn’t even take meeting notes—that would ensure counselors had a voice at the meeting. At another organization, interns and I were sent to attend a big conference, but weren’t registered—we were just instructed to staff a table advertising our organization outside. During my current internship, I’m not allowed to sit at the table during staff meetings. Interns are brushed aside everyday, in small ways that seem justifiable. I mean, someone had to watch the campers right? Someone has to staff the booth at the conference. And of course, the staff table just isn’t big enough to fit everybody!

But this isn’t justifiable, and it’s more than unfair. It demonstrates the ways in which non-profit orgs operate within a hierarchy that places young people and interns at the “bottom.” This hierarchy is a reality and it basically translates to this: doing administrative work, or being employed temporarily, or not having 20+ years of experience, means you don’t have worthwhile thoughts and opinions. Which is bullshit. This hierarchy is damaging both to the intern and to the organization. Interns are often the most innovative, creative thinkers within an organization. Many of us have new ideas, we’re excited, we want to learn and grow and experiment and think and critique, and we want to do it and share it with you. We’re not just “leaders of tomorrow”—we’re here today, doing work right now, that helps assess, adjust, explore, and expand the work you do. Don’t just give us boring tasks—work with us. Understand that we bring knowledge and wisdom that you need. Don’t shut us down, ignore us, or silence us. Give us a seat at the table.

That’s like doing a part time job, but for free!
I applied to work at a super cool non profit that publishes books by independent, progressive authors. They offered me a position, but wanted me to work 25 hours a week—UNPAID! 25 hours a week, unpaid! That’s like doing a part time job, but for free! I was in my senior year of college, taking classes, writing my thesis, and doing campus activist work—I didn’t have time to work 25 hours/week, and definitely couldn’t afford to do it for no money. I don’t know how anyone could afford to or have the time to take that kind of internship. I turned down the offer. All for the best, because since then I’ve heard that the organization doesn’t value their interns at all—they just sit around or buy coffee for the full-time employees. 

Interns should not be speaking with media, that is not part of their position.
I got the email above from my supervisor’s boss, at a large non-profit where I interned.  A reporter called and my supervisor was overworked, so he asked me to call the reporter back for him.  I was excited—I hadn’t spoken to a member of the media at this job yet. I thought it would be a good learning opportunity. But apparently, I wasn’t supposed to talk to reporters.  Excuse me, I wanted to reply, I am a competent adult. I can make a fucking phone call. I have talked to reporters before! I hate the fact that all my previous experience is ignored because it’s assumed I have none; I hate the assumption that I’m not able to do this job; I hate being condescended to. I wish I was given the chance to prove myself, or even the chance to make a mistake. Interns needs learning opportunities too. We’re not just here to do the shit you don’t have time for. 

Money is the driving force behind any movement for social change
This was told to us at Fundraising 101 event for interns at a non-profit I worked at. Wait, what? Money, not people - especially young people - drive social change? That’s incredibly disempowering to hear, as a young person and as someone who truly believes in the power of stories, the power of collective action as the REAL driving force behind social movements. #nonprofitindustrialcomplex