Being the yesman for privately funded project, how can I make this work?
April 9, 2014 3:56 PM   Subscribe

I work at a non profit and have been running an internship program for two years. It is funded annually, but on no set schedule. I am prevented from insisting on a schedule or requiring a reasonable gap between funding date and start date. I am expected to just pull the program together within weeks of the donation being received. With a vague start date and no selection schedule, how do I advertise and maintain a pool of candidates? Please help me come up with a creative solution!

This is the 4th year of the program. I have been running it for two years. I have been clearly instructed by the administration to never give any push-back and have been explicitly prevented from requesting any changes to this scenario via the donor's proxy.

There are issues of logistics as well as ensuring good candidates that make this lack of scheduling problematic. Bad candidates mean unhappy staff and unhappy students, it really is a lose-lose situation. Last year we received funding in July for an early August start date. This meant I had a few weeks to determine which applicants were still available, to find new applicants, to schedule interviews(with an interview committee of 4 other people), secure housing, etc, etc, etc. We lucked out and ended up with good interns, meanwhile I had a small mental breakdown- juggling all this while doing my regular job at the institution was too much.

From my perspective, having no due date on the application means that few serious and quality candidates will apply. Interviewing and hiring people with a few weeks notice to move, often times, across the country is ridiculous.

Is there some clever solution to this trap I am in? How can I set up rolling applications in a way that makes sense to students? Is this a more common situation than I realize and applicants are used to this ambiguity? Any advice is appreciated!
posted by abirdinthehand to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First of all, I previously attempted to organize an internship program at a nonprofit. It was canceled after I left. So I get you.

That said, why can't you use the money you get in July to have interns start in January? And why are you finding housing for interns? That should be on them. Is it on you because of the short time frame? It's been a while but the last time I was an intern, I had to find my own housing.

I'd try to develop relationships with people at a local university so hopefully then when you get the word that you have funding, they can connect you with students. Plus if they're local, you don't have to deal with housing.

Also, former interns can help you find new interns. I knew of an internship program where the current interns interviewed the intern candidates. It worked well because it gave the current interns interviewing experience while the intern candidates got to talk to someone who knew what the internship was really like.
posted by kat518 at 4:09 PM on April 9, 2014

Response by poster: Just want to clarify straight off. Those restrictions are at the donor's preference which my administration is beholden to and therefore so am I. I have asked to have the start date delayed according to funding date and I was prevented from pursuing it any further by both my own organization and the donor's rep. Including housing is also just another mandated part of the program. I am restricted to doing things as the donor dictates.
posted by abirdinthehand at 4:43 PM on April 9, 2014

Are these restrictions from the donor and the representative an invitation to ask them for more direction/instructions about how to run the program? Since the program was in effect for 2 years before you took it over, how did your predecessor handle it?
posted by deanc at 4:46 PM on April 9, 2014

Best answer: Yeah, focus on local students. I think, perhaps counter-intuitvely, you may also find better candidates if you look locally, because a candidate who accepts an internship that requires them to move cross-country with a few weeks notice probably doesn't have a lot of other great options.

It's hard to say more without knowing what the point of this internship is and what work the intern is meant to be doing. Or how long it lasts - is this a month, a semester, or a full year? It kind of sounds like, ultimately, the point of the internship is more about appeasing the donor than it is about providing a useful experience for the organization or the intern.

Is the five-person interview required? Could you condense the selection process in general? Like, say, a month before you *think* you're going to get a decision about funding, put out an ad, then, as soon as you actually have the money start securing housing and interviewing people.
posted by mskyle at 4:58 PM on April 9, 2014

(1) Why does having no far-off application due date mean you won't get serious candidates? There are serious candidates already out there looking who will put in an application and begin the interview process whenever they see the ad. Sure, you won't get as many candidates with less time to collect resumes, but there are other methods to broaden your pool, such as...

(2) Can you assemble a list of people who might be able to recommend interns on short notice? My brother was an intern in DC, hated his internship (not educational at all, unpaid), and his college's program in DC found him another one. Are there paid college internship staff like that in your area whom you could immediately reach out to? Or others who come into contact with likely interns on a regular basis? Putting out news you're hiring to the right people will help you build a pool quickly.

(3) So, you got good interns last year. Given the annoying and unreasonable-sounding demands being placed on you, maybe the solution is just to try and stress less about it, realizing that even though it's not ideal, it's likely to work out ok in the end?
posted by _Silky_ at 5:41 PM on April 9, 2014

Best answer: Let it fail.

Don't get me wrong, hustle like heck every year.

Do you submit a weekly report, for your regular duties? If not, start. And when internship time begins, be sure to inquire "is there anything I can do to get started on the internship?" And when they say "no", put it in your weekly report: inquired about preplanning for internship. There is nothing to do at this time.

When they say "it's time!" You write in your weekly report "Received first notice to advertise the internship."

Create a summary report at the end of that "season" which highlights the "successes and challenges". You will have already documented, in prior weekly reports, the number of excellent candidates who turned down the internship because of the awkward timing, for example.

Providing weekly reports and a project closing report is professional. If the funder ever asks "why isn't this going better?" You have qualitative and quantitative data by which to evaluate the program. (This is project management speak for "you've covered your ass.")

The likelihood that the funder is going to ask what's going wrong is surprisingly low. Because from his/her perspective, s/he can already tell his/her friends that s/he funds an internship. Unhappy staff, unhappy students, happy funder? That's a success. (I'm really sorry to say that out loud.)
posted by vitabellosi at 6:04 PM on April 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Would it be possible to start collecting applications at the same time each year even though the program hasn't been funded? i.e. posting the internship announcement in May (or even earlier, whenever makes sense) and not calling people in for interviews until the funding comes through. That way you're not just waiting.

In the interest of being a good "employer" I'd be responsive to inquiries and applications, letting the students know that you've received their applications and will contact them when interviews begin. If the funding doesn't come through, you just write to them and either "reject" them, or if you're being very honest, say that the funding for the program didn't go through.

The other idea I had would be for you to run the program with or without the funding. Of course, depending on your non-profit's situation, not sure this be even possible. You can run the program with funding, i.e. housing, stipend, whatever else you used the funding for; or you can run the program without funding, i.e. on your own for housing, for credit-only, etc.

You can even describe this situation gracefully on the internship announcement as "grants may be available for housing and/or living stipend". I'm sure I've seen this before.
posted by polexa at 8:30 PM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Be clear with the applicants that the start date is within a very wide range (Date to start will be June to September 2015). Early on, make a queue of applicants so that when the date is finally confirmed you can go through the list from best to bleh candidates for whoever is still available and interested.

If your funding is going to come annually but the dates are flexible, talk to the finance side about allocating an advance of general funds for a fixed start date, to be recouped when the donor finally pays up. This may not be possible.

If your donor is being eccentric (polite) and your group, assume that they are driven by some personal ego thing and don't actually care about the outcome. In which case, you really should either let this meander on badly, go completely local and do what makes you happy, or beg for it to be handled by someone else in your organisation. An eccentric donor isn't interested in improving it, and it's a waste of energy to do more than the minimal if it's harming your organisation.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:25 AM on April 10, 2014

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