Doing good things and also... being able to buy food in DC?
January 28, 2010 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Is there any hope of a non-technical internship in DC which pays well enough to live in DC? Asking for a girl interested in nonprofits, womens issues, rights, and has tons of writing skills, people skills, and work ethic.

The headline is pretty much it, but it seems very difficult to find any kind of opportunities that aren't technical but pay a living wage (defined as being enough to cover rent in the city, which is typically $600-1000. And, while it would be awesome to cover areas of interest (really 'rights' of many types, women's, lgbtq, minority, and assistance in general), it would be okay to find something only tangentally related.

I guess this also includes internships with lower numbers of hours, which would allow her to take another job which could help pay the bills.

Also, for-profits are fine. Really any kind of sweet internship which pays. And is in DC.
posted by tmcw to Work & Money (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Isn't an internship that pays the bills just called a "job"? Or are you looking for something more short-term/
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:05 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Isn't an internship that pays the bills just called a "job"? Or are you looking for something more short-term

At least in the tech world, well-paying internships are pretty common; I've never heard of a CS or Engineering internship that didn't pay, unless university rules prohibited receiving pay for an internship that also gave credit toward a degree.

(I don't actually have anything to offer toward the question; my friends who've had non-techncial internships almost never got paid, and deeply resented the way that the prevalence of unpaid internships biased certain fields strongly toward people from well-off families who could afford to pay their rent while lower-income folks had to take paid summer jobs outside their intended career path.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:21 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I guess 'pays the bills' is a bit of an overstatement; it's for something that either has a stipend enough to pay for rent or allows for the possibility of a job that pays rent. It's obviously possible in other industries (technical) that internships are often paid and often well enough to cover rent, but this practice varies tremendously in other industries (entertainment), and I'm wondering if there are any places in the nonprofit sector that pay interns.
posted by tmcw at 8:22 AM on January 28, 2010

Try the Kaiser Family Foundation. They have paid internships. It's a fabulous place to work, and good food is always around the office -- helpful for interns!
posted by jgirl at 8:25 AM on January 28, 2010

That rent estimate sounds a little optimistic for decent places in DC. Will she have roommates? I know that for a young, 20s-ish person, there are some jobs that pay enough to live in okay parts of the city w/ roommates, but "internships" typically don't pay enough to support yourself.
posted by spaltavian at 8:26 AM on January 28, 2010

Live in DC, went to college in DC, and in short- no. You are right that internships involving technical work do get pay, but for most of the internships that you are looking for you will be lucky to get a transportation (metro) stipend. Yes, its crappy. Most people i know interned during the day and then waited tables/bar-tended/worked retail to make ends meet.
posted by zara at 8:28 AM on January 28, 2010

What is your girlfriend looking for - part-time during the semester, full time over the summer? Has she graduated or is she still in school?

If she's graduated and is looking for something full-time, she might be able to snag one of the few apprenticeships/fellowships, although most of those deadlines have passed or are coming up soon.

Otherwise, yeah, she'll have to wait tables/sling coffee in the evenings. She might also ask around her school to see if there are any grants/scholarships available for summer internships.

I would say that if human rights is her passion, she should try to make a go of it with an unpaid internship if at all possible. This is how she will get her foot in the door and make connections, which is how she'll eventually get a paid job. It's pretty impossible to get a paying job at an advocacy NPO in DC without some sort of NPO advocacy experience.

OTOH, a paid internship in another field might make the time while she's doing the internship easier, but it will not make it any easier for her to find a job with a human rights org later. In fact, it might even make it harder.

Anyway, I've worked in nonprofit advocacy for years, several of those in DC. Feel free to have your girlfriend MeMail me if she has more specific questions.
posted by wholebroad at 8:50 AM on January 28, 2010

I guess this also includes internships with lower numbers of hours, which would allow her to take another job which could help pay the bills.

Ah, I missed this part. Yeah, she should be able to find something part-time. Lots of nonprofit interns work part-time (say, 20 hours/week) while also working part- or full-time at restaurants, bars, etc. Most non-profit managers remember how hard it was starting out. In fact, if a non-profit is so inflexible as to not allow this, then it probably not a great place to work.
posted by wholebroad at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2010

I'm going to say no, not likely. There are a lot of wealthy college kids who come to DC and have their parents pay for their sublets/apts. Summer interns might make $9/hr, which won't pay the rent in the non-dangerous parts of the city.
posted by anniecat at 9:28 AM on January 28, 2010

Americorps. It doesn't pay well, but it pays well enough. I know plenty of people who make it in NYC.
posted by melissam at 9:29 AM on January 28, 2010

Seconding anniecat.
posted by phrontist at 9:44 AM on January 28, 2010

Is this person a college student or a recent graduate?

I have worked at several nonprofits in DC that fit the bill organizationally, all of which had unpaid interns only. As a college student 5 years or so ago, I had 2 internships, one of which was paid and one unpaid. I would not count on finding something paid.

However, all of my interns and my own personal interning experience, have been part time. Interns are almost always either students, or need a paying job. The only exception has been a few times we have full time interns over the summer.

If she is still a college student, there are tons of programs that assist with finding internships in DC for a semester or summer. There are big independent organizations like the Washington Center, which always seemed scammy to me as a student in DC, but since I started working, I can attest that we do take interns through those types of programs. There are also many universities around the country that do a DC semester program, like an abroad semester, where they also should provide some assistance in securing and internship. Both types of programs should also help with finding reasonably affordable accomodations.

If she is not a current student, she will have to look for a part-time one to allow her to work. It is possible, thousands of people in this city are doing that at any given time. She will have to live in a group house, work some other part-time job and probably be exhausted. But if you are not one of those with the bankrolling parents, this is what you have to do to get into that world.
posted by whodatninja at 10:28 AM on January 28, 2010

I was an intern at the Human Rights Campaign two or three years ago, and it was really fantastic. (Please note that, sadly, HRC is not the best place to be if you actually want to see large changes happen quickly.) I worked on the Foundation side and ended up making about $800 per month, which is enough to live on if you are super-careful. At HRC I was able to write a ton and learned skills that eventually parlayed into a real career.

I also did AmeriCorps in DC, which was a great experience but (a) only paid $600/month, which is *not* enough to live on, and (b) didn't really give me a great intro to the world of nonprofit, although that may just be the organization I was placed with.

Let me check with a friend of mine who supervises HRC interns to see if they're still paying $800/mo for interns. If so, and if your friend is interested, let me know and I can pass her resume on to my friend.
posted by harperpitt at 10:39 AM on January 28, 2010

Ugh, I spoke too soon, sorry - they had to eliminate intern salaries because of the economy.

I work in a large PR firm that pays interns quite well, but I don't think it would necessarily be her bag; we are definitely a button-up for-profit environment. But I'll keep an eye out for anything good.
posted by harperpitt at 10:46 AM on January 28, 2010

What is your girlfriend looking for - part-time during the semester, full time over the summer? Has she graduated or is she still in school?
Still in school, and looking for full-time over the summer - and yep, she's my girlfriend, can't fake neutrality :)

Thanks jgirl - might be a long shot, but I'll keep an eye on it.

Indeed this is a really tough thing to find (since it barely exists), but thanks for the tips. Possibly something through her school will work out, since they have an office in DC.
posted by tmcw at 10:48 AM on January 28, 2010

well... just from the perspective of costs...

Rents don't look far off - as long as she's willing to do what most 20somethings in DC do... that is live with roommates. Check for "shared housing" it's pretty much the only way to afford living in the city for lower pay/younger professionals. I did it for many years when I first moved to DC.

Then... as for other costs... DC is comparable to any other major city on food costs (NY, Paris, London, etc... maybe a little less - as it's basically an overgrown small town). Food is expensive, metro is not cheap (rent close to work to save $$).

There are guides to eating free in DC on happy hour etc... at least there used to be... DC generally "runs" on over educated, underpaid interns/ young people... it churns through 'em.

Looking for a job is pretty much the same as internship if she's not going for a "brand-name" internship with bigtime financial backing... mostly the "grunt-level" jobs in policy, advocacy, research, and the like (other non-profit sorts of orgs) just pay the same level that internships do in other cities/ industries.

(probably just saying the same things others already have... but I'm saying it this time ;)
posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 11:11 AM on January 28, 2010

No. Nonprofit internships in DC don't tend to pay well, if at all. Part-time internship + job is probably the only way to go - but in terms of gaining experience and making connections, I think it's likely well worth it in the long run.
posted by naoko at 8:04 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

EVERYONE wants to come to DC for the summer - many with the exact same interests as you gf. I advise waiting until the fall or spring when the competition lessens significantly.
posted by Neekee at 9:33 PM on January 28, 2010

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