TFS case study logoTheFilmSchool is one of our long-standing NPO clients that is a continual delight and challenge to work with. Over a year ago the amount of course offerings doubled, increasing the marketing workload accordingly. Like everyone else though, budgets were tight.

Of course, this presented a problem. How do we do twice the work for the same cost?

The solution: Interns

This post covers a lot of ground, so if you like to read in bite sized chunks, here they are:


Make the benefit to your intern hires clear.

An internship can be just about the most valuable thing for a college student or recent graduate. The fact is anyone who is looking to develop professionaly usually has to start here.

It isn’t a secret. Free training in the area of your professional interest, a few extra credits you can maneuver onto your transcript for no extra cost, and TheFilmSchool even throws in a scholarship to their program after 200 hours of work(about four to five months). Who can turn that down?

Suprisingly, many can. Not every intern we hired was interested in marketing, which comprises anywhere from %50 to %90 of their duties. They were there because they love film, and when they saw the sheer volume of press releases, social media campaigns, and newsletters they were tasked with, some shirked their duties and quietly fell off the face of the earth.

On the other hand, some got it. Some said “I enjoy this.” For some, the experiece was life-changing. When you know in advance what the work is, it helps weed out the ones who won’t want to be there a month down the line.

Make sure you know what the benefit for you is, too.

What’s your workload? How many hours of work do you need covered? What tasks can you safely entrust to interns, and provide the right training? Taking stock of your needs in advance helps you not end up with five unoccupied interns. An idle intern is a lost intern. Make sure you can keep them busy.



Barriers of entry aren’t a bad idea. Intern applicants are required to fill out a form with some basic info, and email TheFilmSchool to submit their resume. Even a simple instruction like “Include the phrase ‘I would love to be your intern’ in the subject line” can be a good indicator of how good they are at following instructions. Ignore this warning at your peril.

Resume or No Resume

Because the mission of TheFilmSchool is to elevate the craft of storytelling, the first round of intern hires were told not to bring a resume with them. We wanted to hear them tell a story. We heard some good stories, but at the end of the day a good story told doesn’t always get that blog post written.

While some of the interns from that round worked out fabulously, others didn’t. These days we ask for a resume. The resume offers proof of endeavors seen through, which might be the most important skill any intern needs: Perseverance.

I still like to hear those stories, but a resume is a must.


On-boarding requires some work from you, so don’t get cozy yet. Through our experience with TheFilmSchool, we’ve developed a checklist for on-boarding interns, which includes:

At first, the password thing didn’t seem like such a big deal, but after answering countless -and I meant countless- email requests for lost passwords it has become a bit of a sticky wicket. I let interns know not to fear asking me for these things, but give them the resources they need so they don’t have to. Life is that much better as a result.


After on boarding, you must invest more time in training them. The better you train them, the less you have to re-train them later.

Because TheFilmSchool is not our only client, it is not always possible to train interns in person. To that end, a good place to start with training might be to train them on using google hangouts and/or skype. These days the hangout is preferred for a variety of reasons. Failing that, never underestimate the power of a phone call.

For example, when an intern at TheFilmSchool fell behind in his tasks, no amount of pestering emails would get him back on track. After a few in person training sessions it became clear that he was working on the tasks, but never made it to the finish line because he was afraid of doing it wrong.

Hell of a problem to have. Yet, that’s how it is sometimes. After reassuring him that getting it done slightly wrong is preferable to nothing at all, a weekly phone call to discuss the weeks work and find out what he needed to finish the job were sufficient. He never missed a deadline after that.

My dream is to set a day where I can get most of the interns in at the same time for a weekly meeting to recap the week’s work and make plans for the next week. Dream pending.

Firing a volunteer

Sometimes, no matter what you do, things aren’t going to work out. Maybe their schedule doesn’t work, maybe they never answer their phone. Once you realize that it’s time to let them go, how do you break the news?

TheFilmSchool has an elegant solution. Because they have a number of one day workshops, hours worked can be applied to those as complensation. Whether the intern wants to take them up on it is up to them.

In the end, you fire a volunteer like you’d fire anyone. Thank them for their time -and show them the door.

Rewarding your awesome interns

Well, shucks. Isn’t college credit, skills learned, and a scholarship reward enough? No. A really great intern is something to be cherished and nurtured. Out of twelve interns we’ve hired so far, three have completed their internship and only one has actually cashed her hours in for the scholarship.

A few others haven’t yet completed the internship, but are awesome nonetheless. How can you keep them motivated?

At first I thought that telling them the kind of money they can make with their newly learned skills would be motivating. I was wrong. Not only is it an empty promise, because I don’t get to decide who hires them for future jobs, but it draws attention to the fact that they aren’t getting paid for it now. Turns out that can have a negative effect on their performance.

The most successful reward for a job well done I’ve found so far is some good ol’ fashioned gratitude. When someone is awesome, let them know. Too often, an intern’s mistakes are immediately pointed out, but the good things go unrecognized. Hell, if you don’t tell an intern specifically how they were awesome that day, how will they know to do it again in the future?

Gratitude folks. This can range to letters of recommendation after the internship is over to a simple and sincere thanks. They’ve earned it.

Final takeaways …

Every intern is a special snowflake… Okay, well let’s not get sentimental about it, but don’t forget that each one will have different abilities and needs. Some will ask you twenty questions a minute, some will not communicate their questions very well at all. Any of them could become a valuable asset to your team if you remember to:

And the last lesson learned: Keep recruiting. During the last holiday break we lost touch with all of the interns. Two weeks off is fine if you can spare it, but only half of those interns got back to work before halfway through January. The rest never did. That meant more work for us, more work for TheFilmSchool, and an terrifying start to the new year.

TheFilmSchool has four new interns now. So far they’ve all been great. If I can take my own advice, maybe they’ll all make it to the end.