The Intern POV: A Summer with SNPT

Hi, I’m Aurora, the summer communications intern at SNPT! I’m super excited to be a part of the work being done at the Trust; I love hiking and exploring the outdoors, and I want to be a part of protecting the spaces I love. I hope that you will follow along as I become familiar with Shenandoah, learn what it’s like to work at a nonprofit organization, and discover the hidden jewels of Shenandoah National Park.

As the end of my internship approaches, I’m reflecting back on my time with the Shenandoah National Park Trust (SNPT) and processing my experiences as a communications/marketing intern. My goal was to understand the Trust’s mission more clearly so I could combine my major – Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication (WRTC) – with the environmental conservation and recreation efforts of the Trust. 

Applying WRTC to Nonprofit Communications

WRTC is a study of communications across different modes and genres, including nonprofit writing, legal writing, editing, government writing, digital marketing/communication, web development, and more. 

Being able to craft narratives around projects in the park proved useful in increasing overall brand awareness and reach on social media. Posting videos in the park during the Rapidan Society’s July Weekend in the Park was one of my favorite highlights from the summer because as the numbers increased, I felt proud to be able to share park projects supported by the Trust with so many people who care about the same things.

Knowing how to reach an audience through strategic rhetorical decisions is necessary to engage with current and potential future donors because it helps establish a connection between themselves and the people being served. The applicability of the skills I’ve learned in my major, including audience awareness in nonprofit communications, helped me work towards the goals of the Trust by connecting the audience with the the Trust’s mission and purpose.

I shared stories through blog posts, reels, and Instagram posts that presented projects in different language styles depending on the type of platform. While writing for social media, I had to think about how to share the project in line with the interests of the Trust’s followers. The information shared on social media used more general, familiar language than the stories shared on our blog because blog readers are typically already engaged supporters who are on the website to learn more. 

By working as an intern at the Trust, I found the goal of communications in nonprofit work is to present project narratives in different forms, so you can engage with all your supporters, intentionally connecting them to the mission in ways that feel approachable and bring them closer to the work that’s being done, with the ultimate goal of increasing donations to support more work. 

I developed a sense of how to represent the people being served by sharing their perspective and connecting it to the Trust’s mission instead of only sharing the organization’s voice. Sharing stories that represent the different peoples involved in the park creates a sense of community and trust between the organization, audience, and donors. 

As I learned how to use my WRTC skills in a nonprofit setting, I also discovered how much I didn’t know yet and what skills I need to develop. I found that I feel confident in written communication, but I need more technical skills to be successful in communications/marketing. Increasingly, I needed to make more graphic design and video content for social media, so I plan on participating in more digital design and publication workshops during my last year of college. The Trust internship provided me the opportunity to explore visual communications in a way I haven’t been able to in a classroom, and I saw that presenting visually appealing content maintains brand consistency and results in more engagement. 

Expanding Beyond the Screen

Getting involved with Trust projects in the field and getting out from behind the screen was significant for me because I learned that I really enjoy field work and getting to talk with the biologists, volunteers, and park rangers –  who all play key parts in how the park functions. Participating in projects was enjoyable for me because I felt like I could get a better understanding of the purpose of the work being done.

I attended Nina Grauley’s Artist-in-Residence workshop and drew flowers alongside donors during the Rapidan Society’s July Weekend in the Park; this experience made me appreciate the tiny details of plant life that I had brushed over before. When I looked more closely at all the life surrounding me in the park and beyond, it personally connected me to conservation.

I realized that I believe getting directly involved and delving deep into the narrative is important to accurately represent the people and land. Taking a deep dive into the purpose of the work often led me to recognize commonalities and connections between everyone involved with the park. All park supporters are looking to preserve wild spaces that carry years of history and culture, even if they are approaching conservation from different angles, whether it be creating awareness through art or donating money to support the park. 

As I end this internship, I come away with a new understanding of technical skills and the power in community engagement, although I also gained a better understanding of myself. I loved directly working with people and discovering the different stories that the land holds; similarly, working in a smaller office environment was very productive for me because there was more opportunity for close collaboration. The ability to work within a smaller group gave me more to time to reflect on where I have room to grow personally and my career. 

It seemed by biggest challenge throughout the internship was not being unable to accomplish a task, but to feel confident in my ability. My time working with the Trust has encouraged me to keep challenging myself in whatever step I choose after college because everytime I persist, I learn something new about myself. 

I enjoyed my time at SNPT because I was able to combine my passion for the outdoors and my skills in writing, while also being in the field to develop my own connection to the land I am working to protect. I will always remember the Trust and will think of them as I continue to visit the park, remembering their work “that helps protect, enhance, and preserve the resources of Shenandoah National Park for all to enjoy – for this and future generations.”

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