My Transformative Internship at DoSomething.org

by Natalie Kanter | Class of 2019 at Minerva Schools

Photo: Liberty Pim

During the summer of 2017, after completing my second year at Minerva, I interned with the Business Development team at DoSomething.org, the largest technology company exclusively for young people and social change. As a Business Development Intern I researched prospective new corporate partners, managed outreach initiatives to build and negotiate new partnerships, and supported existing relationships. If it sounds like a lot of work, it was.

And it was worth it.

My position enabled me to draw from my past experiences in outreach and communication and fuse them with my passion for social change. DoSomething works to affect immediate change within social issues like Islamophobia, the school to prison pipeline, and homelessness, while also empowering an entire generation to create positive change for the rest of their lives. That sort of shift in an entire generation’s mentality necessitates institutional change, and, as a Social Science major, this is exactly what many of my classes at Minerva revolve around.

Along with my other responsibilities mentioned above, I also had the opportunity to work with the CEO and Vice President of Business Development on a growth funding initiative that aimed to take the organization to the next level and, thus, create even more impact. Working on a project with two of the most influential people in the organization was a transformative experience. I was able to learn how the executive team strategizes, creates and executes goals, and gives feedback, while gaining insight into the ins and outs of growth funding.

I was trusted that I could do well. The feedback I most often received, actually, was to stop asking about feedback and just do it, whatever that task was.

Throughout the process, I provided value in direct and immediate ways. I reorganized and clarified the business development pipeline for finding new prospective foundations, pitching them, writing grant proposals, and securing funding. Along with some of my fellow interns, I contributed to researching hundreds of foundations of interest to funnel into the growth initiative pipeline. Ultimately, I was able to propose new directions for my work and volunteered to help with related projects to gain more understanding of the overall process.

I also found that Minerva’s pedagogy was put to the test throughout my time at DoSomething — and it succeeded. The Cornerstone courses, which are split into different Habits of Mind and Foundational Concepts (HCs), were applicable in almost every moment of work. I was pulling in concepts from different aspects of my learning — understanding the way the organization is structured, using contextual information to create strong presentations, communicating with confidence, and so much more, enabled me to make valued contributions. I became a more flexible employee through the breadth of the first year curriculum; when asked to join a campaign brainstorm or help to rewrite a data analysis, for example, I could pull knowledge from different classes as needed to add value to each project.

Knowing how crucial my work was created pressure to succeed. Failure to communicate or complete tasks on time could have seriously impacted a project’s momentum, especially when the work was making an immediate impact. At the same time, I was trusted that I could do well. The feedback I most often received, actually, was to stop asking about feedback and just do it, whatever that task was — whether it was writing the email the way I thought was best, structuring the spreadsheet the way I believed is most effective, or choosing the contact person I thought would be most appropriate. Sometimes it was difficult to manage the seemingly disparate tasks of trusting my instincts while knowing that I had to succeed, but it ultimately led to immense personal growth and an increased trust in my own abilities.

By extension of being a Minerva student, I’ve had opportunities that have helped me develop skills that better prepared me to succeed in a business development role. For example, I currently have a work study position as an Application Mentor to those applying to Minerva’s Class of 2022. I engage with applicants from all around the world, helping to answer their questions and motivate them to continue and complete their applications. I’ve had conversations with thousands of people, and have had to use what I know about their background to help motivate them to achieve a desired goal. Much of those same techniques became useful when I came to DoSomething. Sure, speaking to General Motors’ Corporate Social Responsibility team, as I had the opportunity to do while at DoSomething, is different from speaking to an 18 year old college applicant in Malaysia. But making someone believe in your vision is critical in both cases.

In addition to my work study position, I gained invaluable real-life experience while collaborating with one of Minerva’s Berlin-based civic partners, Kiron, which helped prepare me for the work I did at DoSomething. With four of my classmates, I researched, scripted, and produced an entire MOOC for refugees learning online. The research skills I gained during that process helped me each and every day at DoSomething, where I was expected to accurately and effectively identify information for my superiors. For example, before the Business Development team would pitch a campaign to a potential sponsor, I would assemble a holistic research brief regarding the interests of the company, the background of the team we would be speaking with, and how exactly DoSomething could most benefit their business.

Among women who have accomplished amazing things in nonprofit for years, there I was, responsible for making real progress. Not coffee runs.

Lastly, being a Minerva student means I’m regularly placed in unfamiliar situations and environments and trusted to perform well and produce good work. Whether that included speaking to VC funders and nonprofit founders or networking with Minerva’s highly acclaimed civic partners, I’ve become comfortable connecting with people who hold significantly more power than me — both in title and knowledge of a given industry. In addition, living in different countries for four months at a time, benefitting from Minerva’s innovative curriculum, and working on civic projects in completely unfamiliar industries have helped push me out of my comfort zone and grow under pressure. At DoSomething, I felt comfortable and confident working directly with the Vice President of Business Development without having any nonprofit experience. Without having experienced the aforementioned challenges while at Minerva, I’d likely not have navigated these relationships as well.

In total, I spent 12 weeks at DoSomething. Accomplishing so much in a relatively short timeframe was incredible; however, the ultimate validation of my work came when I received positive feedback from the executive team. Afterall, it’s not often that you have the opportunity to be directly valued by the CEO of an organization in your very first internship. Among women who have accomplished amazing things in nonprofit for years, there I was, responsible for making real progress. Not coffee runs.

I think much of this unique opportunity can be attributed to the “flatness” of the organization, and how DoSomething’s company culture necessitates mutual respect within every interaction, regardless of someone’s position or institutional knowledge. My comments, questions, and feedback were welcome and addressed as much as any other staff member’s concerns. Everyone on staff treated me as they treat each other, as an inquisitive adult with skills to contribute, curiosity to learn more, and a drive to make a meaningful impact.

Never in my life had I been given the opportunity to spend eight hours, five days a week with some of the most inspiring people I had ever met. I was compelled to reach out to staff members due to my sheer interest in them — their lives, their passions, their reasons for working at DoSomething — and they were more than obliged to share. What is more, they were authentically interested in my own story.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Vice President of Business Development, Karen Goldfeder, who I had the pleasure of working closely with throughout my time in the office. She is infamous for her sage advice — words to live by and tips for success were thrown out at any moment’s notice. Looking back at my notebook, I have hundreds of notes scratched in the margins of the pages detailing wise words I know I’ll adhere to for the rest of my life.

Working in that office, day in and day out, showed me that there exists another unbelievable community of driven, deeply knowledgeable people who refuse to quit on their vision for a better world.

My experience at DoSomething was more than just a 9-to-5 job. All of the interests and passions that I thought about pursuing were validated by the staff that surrounded me with positive energy. I contributed to the organization in a meaningful way, and being valuable felt incredible.

I think back at my experience often; for example, when the entire office would gather together each week to look back on the previous week and look forward to the next one. Every now and then my superiors would recognize the hard work of my counterpart and I, and how it contributed to the organization’s larger goals. That recognition served as a marker of my hard work, and I left with an understanding of my potential, an unquenchable thirst for new knowledge, and the conviction that I can contribute to a social movement.

I knew when I joined Minerva that I had found a truly remarkable community of students filled with absurdly bright, capable people with a strong will to make meaningful change in the world. After working with DoSomething, I’m thrilled to have found another. Working in that office, day in and day out, showed me that there exists another unbelievable community of driven, deeply knowledgeable people who refuse to quit on their vision for a better world. They live this life every day of the year, and after having the opportunity I had at DoSomething, I know it’s possible for me, too.