The Mutual Value Of An Internship In The Non-Profit Sector

A note from our Executive Director…

As a small environmental charity AWARE has three days a week on which to run. In those three days we do everything: engage in local issues and advocacy; design future programs; write project grant applications; host environmentally focused events; liaise with stakeholders; participate in working groups; engage the community; manage a membership program; the list goes on. So understandably there are many things that we would like to do but simply do not have the capacity (time and/or budget). This is where we knew interns could help.

Having applied and failed to secure intern funding the previous two years, in 2016 the Canada Summer Jobs Program funded AWARE for two 9 week summer student positions. Without the budget of larger organizations we were unable to compete with most of the wages being offered to interns, so we looked at what else we could offer.  Revisiting the list of things we know we want to / should be doing if our time and budget allowed, we were able to design internship projects which we hoped would have profound impact for both the students and our organization. In position postings we highlighted the tangible products that the students would be creating. These posts wouldn’t be about working behind the scenes without ownership of the end product, the opportunity to take an idea and make it real was theirs for the taking.

For AWARE the timing of these internships couldn’t have been better. In the previous year the group had created a new strategic plan, clarified our advocacy issues, undergone a minor rebrand and launched a new website. In the community, this had equated to the launch of 2 social enterprises, 4 new ongoing programs and eight 2016 projects, in addition to ongoing advocacy work.

In just 9 weeks our interns were able to make truly meaningful contributions to our organization, contributions which will last well into the future and will be tangible to our membership and community. By increasing our capacity, even for a short time and in relation to specific projects and tasks, these students have elevated our ability to inform and engage the community, in ways that otherwise may not have been possible. In return I believe we were able to offer engaging and inspiring work that was good for both the resume, and the soul!



So what exactly were our interns working on:

Maxwell Tougas spent his summer GIS & Research Assistant placement with AWARE creating two interactive story maps relating to complex advocacy issues.  The story maps use GIS data and layers to iterate – through maps, images and written content – complex pressures on 1) Whistler’s Old Forests and 2) Grizzly Bears in Southwest BC. Joining the team with little background on these two topics Max was able to prioritise the information we wanted to get across and determine the most appropriate way to illustrate the issues using the available software. As a small non-profit the opportunity to have a GIS practitioner like Max join the team, even for a limited time, was huge.  Max’s work is currently under review by specialists relating to the two topics covered and will be released publicly once that process is complete.

Melanie Auger joined the AWARE team as a Communications and Marketing Assistant. Melanie played a huge role in developing tools and templates relating to the rebrand, from scratch, researching best practice and taking ideas from team brainstorming sessions. Melanie was able to balance the generation of detailed content relating to specific projects, events and programs while maintaining alignment with emerging broader brand strategies. Additionally, Melanie took ownership of multiple elements relating to the organization’s new website which had been released in a bare-bones format, improving the functionality and user experience while also generating content designed to elevate the role of the site as a hub for community focused information and resources.



There are lots of opportunities to get involved with groups like AWARE, volunteers play a huge role in increasing capacity around specific projects / events / causes.  If you have some time to dedicate to an organization or cause you care about reach out – often there are lots of tasks that it would be great to see get underway if there were some extra hands helping to make it happen.

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