KnightBlog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Communities
Feb 04, 2016

How a Knight internship helped develop a better understanding of nonprofits

Posted by Rosemary D'Amour

Chris Caines at Knight's offices in Miami. Photo by Rosemary D'Amour.

Applications are now open for Knight Foundation’s summer internship program, which offers competitive, paid 10-week internships for college students and recent grads. A former Knight intern turned Knight employee, Chris Caines, talks about his experience as an intern in summer 2015 and the transition as a recent graduate from Wesleyan University. Caines works as the program associate for the Miami communities program.

You graduated from Wesleyan in December 2015. What has it been like to go from college to the work world?

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. Two weeks after taking my last set of finals and making snowmen with friends, I was sitting in my cubicle waist deep in grant work and swimming at the beach after work. It’s been a really great first month, though; everyone—from co-workers to grantees—has been friendly and supportive.

How did you end up working for Knight Foundation?

About halfway through my internship I realized what a phenomenal opportunity it would be to start my professional career with Knight. In the final weeks of the internship, I started floating the idea of me coming back after I graduated to my supervisor, Matt Haggman. A couple months later in the middle of my post-grad job search, Matt called me. I just about dropped everything overnight, and before I knew it I was looking out at Biscayne Bay from my cubicle at Knight.

What are your responsibilities as a program associate?

I do a little bit of everything. My primary responsibilities are checking in with grantees to see how their projects are coming along, reviewing proposed grants, helping to manage our Miami program grant budget, and handling some administrative duties.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning when you get to work?

The very first thing I do is actually change shoes. I don’t own a car and live about a mile from the office so I usually walk over in sneakers. The first work-related thing I do, though, is to catch up with emails. A lot of times grantees or potential grantees have pressing questions and needs that must be addressed immediately. I try to keep in mind that grant-making is the core of all the work we do at Knight Foundation, and work outwards from there.

What interested you in the internship program with Knight Foundation?

I had been a part of a couple organizations that were dependent on grants to function, and I wanted to get a feel for how grants are made. There’s a lot of value in having a global perspective of nonprofit work. I felt the internship program with Knight would give me a behind-the-curtain look at some aspects of grant-making that would make me more well rounded as I begin a career ideally working for and with nonprofits.

What was your role as an intern with the Miami program team? Did it relate to your studies in school?

I went to a liberal arts school and learned approximately zero hard skills, so the short answer is that the work I’ve done at Knight is entirely unrelated to what I studied. The long answer requires a philosophical nosedive into what makes experiences relational, and whether learning how to learn prepares one for no work, all work, or both. For example, as an intern Matt asked me to organize three years of grants we’ve made in our Miami program into a quickly understood narrative. Like my liberal arts coursework, it was open-ended enough for me to construct and present the data just about any way I wanted. In the end I came up with a part-quantitative and part-qualitative presentation that helped summarize our investments, and future avenues we might want to explore through our work in Miami. 

As a newcomer to Miami, what is it like living in the city?

It’s been awesome! I live in Brickell and can get just about everywhere I want to go through public transit and walking. My first night in the city was spent at Pitbull’s free public New Year’s Eve party in Bayfront Park. Watching him perform and feeling the energy of the city really made me excited for this next chapter of my life. I still haven’t stopped listening to Drake and Future’s “What a Time to Be Alive” mixtape because I just consider myself to be so fortunate to be in this city working for Knight right now.

What did you learn during your internship with Knight that affected your focus for your studies, or your career?

I learned that people tend to want to be more helpful than not. It might sound straightforward, but at Knight I have sent a quick email to someone asking if they had a minute to grab coffee and talk about their role here and been sitting in our break room with them an hour later. My advice to future interns (or anyone really) is to engage with the people right around you.

Beyond the world being really small and the value of cultivating a strong network, every single person here can teach you something or provide you with a nugget of information that helps you see something new. People at Knight are incredibly credentialed, connected and passionate about the work they do. They want to talk about the work they do; all you have to do is be a proactive listener and you can learn a tremendous amount of information.

To apply to Knight Foundation’s internship program please send a cover letter and resume to internship@knightfoundation.org.

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