A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

What I Learned Interning at a Small Foundation

By Victoria Wasserman, Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation

This is the third in a three-part series chronicling one foundation’s experience with having an intern. The first post was written by the foundation’s Executive Director and the second by its Program Officer. This third post is by the foundation’s current Intern. We hope the series will inspire other foundations to follow suit.

For many college students and recent graduates, internships are no more than a resume filler or course requirement that usually leads to a dead end. My internship experience, however, was something much more fulfilling. The skills developed and lessons learned from the months I have spent interning at a small foundation are worth much more than three college credits or a weekly stipend; they are lessons that I will remember and skills that I will utilize throughout my professional career. Some of these lessons include:

The role and power of philanthropy:  Before I graduated, I thought I needed to look for jobs at big-name nonprofits or a government agency in order to have a hand in changing the world. I have come to understand and appreciate the oft-overlooked, behind-the-scenes power of philanthropy, particularly of the small foundation variety, and the domino effect of impact that even a small grant can have on an organization or community. More than that, I have developed a deeper knowledge of a somewhat opaque field in which few people get a behind-the-scenes look.

My need to develop professionally:  I have also learned some important practical lessons of working in an office – from the power of a professional wardrobe, to the inner-workings of office politics, to appropriate times to speak up in a meeting. With the honest advice of my supervisors and the forgiving environment of a small office, I have gone from an unsure college student, to a more confident, well-dressed young professional.

My need to hone my writing skills:  In school, one is taught to compose long-winded, flowery research papers. In the office, that style does not work. After one particular incident, when I went through 10+ revisions of a memo, I realized that business writing necessitates a very succinct writing style. My supervisors gave me the learning opportunities, guidance, and feedback I needed to develop what is now one of my strongest professional assets.

How to ask insightful questions: I’ve always considered myself an inquisitive person, but learning how to ask appropriate, insightful questions is something altogether different. I went from asking simple whats, to hows and whys, because of the safe, teaching-lab-style environment that I found at the foundation. My supervisors made it okay for me to ask questions and ensured that I learned from them by giving me time to reflect upon the answers I was given.

How is your foundation working to support the next generation of philanthropy’s workforce?

Victoria Wasserman

Victoria Wasserman is a recent graduate of Seton Hall University. She is currently an intern at the Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation and the Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. 


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