[From March 22nd to June 17th 2013, I was a Community Fundraising Intern for the Coventry branch of British Red Cross. Alongside Jackie Ord, Senior Community Fundraiser of the office, I recruited, supported and assisted the development of our fundraising groups with the aim of raising £29,000 in the Staffordshire, Warwickshire and West Midlands area for Red Cross Week 2013.
I initially set up this blog to write a letter to all future interns for the charity, wanting to share my experience. This post is the result.]
Dear Potential/Future Intern of the British Red Cross,
Allow me briefly to introduce myself before starting. My name is Andy King, a Warwick University-based fundraiser, thrill seeker, blogger and a former intern of the British Red Cross. It’s always been in my nature to over-think things, and thus, naturally, to reflect on past experiences such as my time spent as a community fundraising intern for this incredible charity.
Trying to make something productive of these thoughts, I decided I would write you a letter.
Ultimately, I’m writing to help you get the most out of your time here, should you get an internship. I’m writing to help you know what to expect beyond sending emails only to realize you’ve forgotten to send the attachment, a host of paid-for lunches and learning the meaning (and joy) of responsibility. I’m basing this missive off of my own personal experiences in the Coventry office, as well as the stories I was told by others at the internship induction day in London.
You’ll be in an open-plan office. (If not in physicality, then at least in mentality). This means that you’ll have access to the teams on which you are not a part of: communications, fundraising and educational staff members all shared the same room for me. I’d learn parts of third sector communication systems just by overhearing conversations between the two team members of that department in the office. You’ll have access to a host of information that’s yours for the taking. Not only to help you do your job, but for your personal curiosity.
You’ll be given a lot of responsibility. I was personally put in charge of making contact with all possible external fundraising groups for the Staffordshire, Warwickshire and West Midlands area for Red Cross Week 2013, for example. This included rotary groups (old people), university groups (young people) and volunteering centers (people in between). You’ll be under pressure to perform, and see the rewards of a job well done. Not only for your CV, but for your personal dose of “the warm fuzzy feeling” that the charity sector is all about.
You’ll learn a lot of new skills. I went from database-illiterate to knowing exactly how to work Ascent (the database they use). I went from dreading making phone calls to dialing numbers without a thought (I believe confidence to be a skill). I greatly improved my ability to stay organized and complete tasks by the deadlines. This will not only make you better at similar tasks in future, but help you develop as a person.
You stand to gain a lot. However, I have five pieces of advice for you to make sure you really gain as much as possible. Most (if not all) of it is obvious, but I feel it would’ve benefited me to hear, so I’ve written it all the same. So read on, especially if you’re considering applying, which is the part I’ll tackle first.
- Do it. Apply. Smash the interview. Take the internship. What have you got to lose? At most, 12 weeks of your life. What’ve you got to gain? At worst, an incredible name to put on your CV, at best, some amazing contacts and a wealth of positive experiences to bring out in interviews and rainy days.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. No matter how stupid or irrelevant you think it might be, ask: if you’re curious to know how the guy on the desk opposite you got into the third sector, ask him. If you want to know where they keep the teaspoons , ask. I can guarantee that the people that surround you are some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet, and they’ll want you to succeed: they’ll be happy to help you every step of the way. Yes, even the baby steps. But conversely…
- Don’t feel that you have to ask questions. Someone once told me that the mark of a good intern was that they asked questions. Acutely obsessed by this, I spent the first day asking stellar questions such as “where’s the loo?” and “who was that man?”. If you think you know what you’re doing, go ahead and get on with it: people are happy to help you, but they’re also happy to let you get on with it. Take things at your own pace, and ask questions as and when they occur to you, rather than for the sake of it. Asking questions is not the mark of a good intern. Doing the job well is a mark of a good intern.
- Attend the Intern Induction Day in London. As far as I know, this is technically optional. You can attend a local one instead, for example. But I would really, really strongly recommend the London one. Not only will you get to meet the Intern Co-ordinator for the UK (currently Mena Fombo, a hilarious, friendly woman who will probably contact you within your first week) but you’ll get to meet the other interns starting at the same time as you and you’ll learn first-aid skills. You’ll even get a certificate! This day was honestly the best of my internship, and I can’t imagine having not been. I can’t even put it into words: just. go.
- And, finally, Network. You will meet so many great people: volunteers, staff members, interns, and you should take advantage of their company. They all have stories to tell, contacts to use and friendships to earn. The other interns in particular are people to keep an eye on: they’ll soon be the rising stars of this industry we’re breaking into. The main other intern I got close to has just taken a full-time job with the Marie Curie Foundation, for example. Knowing them can only help you later in life.
I could compile a list of infinite ways to make the most of your time, because there is so much on offer, but I’ll keep it to five. This internship is a great opportunity: I can’t urge you enough to take full advantage – I’m already wishing I did certain things differently (like networked with more interns and used RedRoom more, which you should definitely ask your line manager about as one of the questions you inevitably have).
Not every day will be glamorous: it’s not all street collections and PR stunts, there’s a lot of database-making and cold-calling, but all of it will teach you a lot. This is only the beginning for you: keep a record and you’ll be amazed how much you stand to gain.
Hopefully this helped.
All the best,
Andy “I want to intern again” King.
P.S: If, following this letter, you have any questions, I urge you to get in touch. I’m a talkative sort, really. You can always email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.