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Home  > Article

An Intern's Notebook

By Tom Watson
Future Leaders in Philanthropy

Six months into my internship, I wish I had known at the beginning what I know now.

Last semester when I became an intern at Changing Our World, Inc., I was very excited. Not only was this internship going to be my first exposure to the "real" working world (outside of student employment and some miscellaneous summer jobs), but I would also be working directly with non-profits and philanthropists. What a great opportunity! I dry cleaned all my 'dress clothes,' bought a few new ties and checked the train schedule into Manhattan. I was thrilled, but also a little nervous because I didn't know what to expect.

Six months later, I think back to my first ten days and the important things I learned. First of all, brace yourself for Grand Central Station. As you join the other 250,000 commuters on a weekday morning who speed through the terminal, you must walk quickly, keep your eyes forward, stay to the right on the escalator and don't dare say hello to anyone who hasn't had their morning cup of coffee. Carry the New York Times if you want to fit in, and beware: the food at Grand Central may be delicious, but it is expensive!

Thankfully, the atmosphere at Changing Our World was much friendlier than that of Grand Central in the morning. I quickly found out that CW has the friendliest receptionist in New York City and that there is just something wonderfully refreshing about a company full of people who are devoted to engaging in the world constructively. Even as a rookie, I quickly became aware of how important it is to have a friendly work environment.

I also quickly learned that when working in the world of philanthropy you must know how to read a 990 form. While the Foundation Center Directory has convenient summaries of the 990, there is still no escaping this form. Familiarize yourself with the 990, or else!

My first ten days also gave me a quick lesson on meetings: they are important, but time consuming. Meetings are not only a chance for you to better understand the overall operation of your company/organization, but also a great opportunity to prove yourself as an intern or new employee. Pay attention, take notes and ask smart questions. If you are invited to present something (e.g. research results, your brilliant ideas), speak clearly, provide hand outs, and most importantly, be prepared! Beware: while you may be required to attend meetings, don't get too excited; your work is not going to do itself. Your time is limited -- especially as an intern -- so schedule accordingly.

Most importantly, learn from your superiors. Senior Managing Directors, CEOs and other important executives have attained such status because they are experienced, knowledgeable and successful. In other words, these guys and gals know what they're talking about. If they are willing to share their valuable knowledge, be grateful, listen carefully, and ask questions.

A few other small suggestions from a now-seasoned intern: don't sit near the kitchen if you are trying to eat healthy, remember your co-workers names, and become very good friends with in-house tech guys because, let's face it, you do not know how to work a computer or copy machine as well as you'd like.

The Future Leaders in Philanthropy (FLiP) site is a special project of The site was founded with two main goals. First, to seek out and encourage college students to enter into a career in the philanthropic sector, and also to provide education, guidance, and networking for young professionals who are new to the sector. The community of readers includes students and young professionals at non-profit organizations, corporate foundations, universities, and for-profit companies.

© 2008 Changing Our World, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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