Q. I'm an undergraduate student interested in a career working in marketing and communications for a charity. Where can I find internships along these lines?
A. Stop by your college's career-placement or work-study office, say nonprofit executives and internship coordinators. But don't stop there. Because many charities only advertise jobs and internships on their own Web sites, Cynthia Ragland, vice president for marketing and communications at the Orange County Community Foundation, in Irvine, Calif., suggests you also conduct online research, but not until you've narrowed your interests down. "Start with your passion," she says. "What are you interested in?" Then visit the Web sites of charities that do work in that area and see if they use interns.
But not all nonprofit internships are advertised. Kathleen McBride, vice president for communications and online strategy at Volunteers of America, says she hires one or two summer interns a year - and has never actively looked for them. Employees come to her, she says, looking for internships for relatives and friends.
"Talk to your parents' friends and find out where they're working," Ms. McBride says. She also recommends attending meetings and visiting the online job boards of professional groups like the Public Relations Society of America, the American Society of Association Executives, the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, and statewide nonprofit associations.
Even if you see ads only for full-time marketing and communications jobs, rather than internships, Ms. McBride says, "if there's an opening, then there's a clear indicator that there's work there."
If the charities you're interested in aren't advertising for interns, request an informational interview with the marketing director - or, at smaller charities, with the executive director or chief fund raiser, Ms. Ragland says. "A lot of times, even if they're not hiring, they might be able to point you in the right direction," she says.
And since small charities rarely have marketing departments, you might want to look beyond marketing and communication to more general internships, says Marissa Niranjan, who markets merchandise for the Snow Leopard Trust, a conservation group in Seattle. Many nonprofit organizations would be happy to have you help out on a communications or marketing project they otherwise wouldn't have time for, she says. "Put together a proposal of a project you could do, how your experience will fit what they need," she says. "Ask if there's something they want to market but haven't had time."
Similarly, she suggests you could look for a volunteer opportunity and turn it into an internship. "I'm sure people would be willing to set up a structure and a schedule and a project," she says.
Keep in mind that given this year's tough job market, competition for internships might be stiffer than usual, Ms. McBride says: "People who'd normally get jobs are taking internships." Still, she says, most nonprofit groups would welcome free or low-cost help from a college intern.