2011 PFIG Recipient Sydney Kastner

Career Administrator

Sydney Kastner
College of Arts & Sciences
Sociology Major
2012 Graduation Year

Internship: American Enterprise

Notes on the first week

This summer, I am one of two interns in the Development department at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is a private, non-partisan thinktank based out of the nation’s capital that focuses on the advancement of knowledge through scholarly research, informative events, and both electronic and traditional publications. There are scholars who solely work at AEI as well as adjunct scholars at many Universities all over the country, and the Development department is responsible for raising the millions of dollars necessary every year in order to support this thirst for and dissemination of knowledge. It’s also the best department as far as we’re concerned considering that the Development Manager of Individuals is a 2007 graduate of the University of Virginia!

My first week at AEI was exciting and has already taught me so much. The Institute provides so many opportunities that I would never have anywhere else. For example, this week they closed the office library because of construction happening in the office. They let us take any books that looked interesting to us. My small college-student library expanded three-fold. They also provide hundreds of books about public policy to the staff. They are displayed on the walls of the offices, and if we want one to take and keep, we merely e-mail one of the directors and tell him so he can make sure there are more for everyone else to enjoy. The events they put on are also very unique. Just a few days ago, Senator McCain came to AEI to speak about Memorial Day at a book opening. From receiving volumes of literature to being winked at by a former Presidential candidate from a few feet away, AEI has already provided me with amazing opportunities.

Once I began successfully navigating around the three-floor building (after a little embarrassing guidance from the Vice President of Development that I was accidentally walking in a circle), I began to dive into the art of nonprofit fundraising. My experience with raising funds for Camp Kesem, the YMCA, and the Richmond SPCA paled in comparison with the tactics and resources that AEI uses. Their budget is so much larger than the companies I have worked with in the past, and that gives me even more of a chance to learn because they must raise so much more money to function than any company I have ever come into contact with. So far, I have completed research about prospective individual, foundation, as well as corporate donors. I have also learned how to enter information about donations and any other AEI happenings into their company-wide database. Finally, I spent a few days on the phone with many large corporations verifying contact information for their most powerful employees in order to send them information that they may be interested in.

I’m looking forward to a summer filled with an education about non-profit fundraising that I couldn’t get anywhere else. One of my main professional goals right now is to become a manager of a non-profit organization so that I know that every day that I go to work I am helping someone somewhere to breath easier. The information that I will learn here this summer will be invaluable to my work with fundraising for non-profits. I also hope to become familiar enough with practices that I can hone in on specific skills that I want to master. My supervisor told me at our mid-summer evaluation I will decide what project I want to personally take ownership of and complete myself. Hopefully the next entry I write will have details of what I will be doing!


I cannot thank the UVA Parents Committee or University Career Services enough for the opportunity that I have had this summer to learn and grow at the American Enterprise Institute. I recently had my mid-internship review with my supervisor, and, of course, I only had wonderful things to say about my co-workers, my superiors, and the overall program itself. My knowledge of the development world is expanding everyday, but being at AEI in particular is life-changing for me. There are 45 interns overall, and most of them are working with the Scholars and Research Assistants on public policy research. Because I am surrounded by politics, engaging arguments, and astoundingly well-renowned scholars in their fields, I have become much more attentive to what is happening in the world.

For example, AEI offered us the chance to take a two-week course before work everyday about microeconomic policy analysis and foreign defense and war strategy called the AEI Summer Institute. The classes were taught by expert scholars and we had nightly reading assignments followed by in-depth discussions. The class culminated with a “staff ride” to Gettysburg in which we each were assigned a character to learn about and embody throughout the day as we walked through the battle. After we returned to DC, we discussed how those war tactics relate to our modern day foreign and defense policy. We also have biweekly intern meetings in which scholars come to update us on their current research. We have learned about the debt ceiling, health care, and unemployment problems thus far. Finally, we took a tour through the Library of Congress and, of course, took an in-depth look at Thomas Jefferson’s personal library which is currently on display.

I have also learned about fundraising activities since the beginning of my internship. AEI uses “Book Offers” in which they offer current books for free to inform their constituents about new research and generate interest in donating. I learned how to send out the order form to potential donors as well as pack their orders and send them. This is such a valuable tactic to learn- disseminating current work in order to keep donors informed as well as interested in the organization. My co-intern in the department and I also took on a project of researching competitor think tanks in the area. We looked into their annual reports to compare fundraising numbers, the amount of donors they had, and the types of events or publications they published. We then walked to all of them to get paper copies of their annual reports and get a feel for their atmospheres. A comparison of similar companies shed light on untapped fundraising ideas.

I also got a crash course in preparing for job fairs, writing resumes, and being interviewed. Our director of Human Resources held an intern meeting in which he discussed differing aspects of the job market and how to be successful. He is the representative from AEI who attends job fairs, and he paid our school a big compliment. He listed quite a few prestigious schools that he will no longer be going to because of the lack of student preparation for job fairs. However, he listed UVA as one of the three schools he enjoys going to and is consistently impressed by!

I did not expect to learn so much outside of fundraising, and it has been a pleasant surprise. The projects that I have been working on have been enjoyable and taught me a lot, but I am looking forward to the second half of the internship because my co-intern arrived fairly recently. We will be assigned to more partner work soon, and I feel like that really shows what the work world is all about: working with other people for a common goal.

Final Reflections

In the office for the second half of my internship, I continued researching, doing filing work, and preparing introduction folders for potential donors. Each detail I worked on turned out to help the team in the long run, and they showed my co-intern and I whenever our work was affecting their decisions. We also worked together to compile a specific and lengthy list of research in which we created a timeline to make sure we finished on time.

The end of my internship at the American Enterprise Institute continued to surprise me with all of the ways it opened my mind to preparing for the future even outside of the work I was doing in the office. We took trips to the Capitol and the Pentagon which continued to make Washington, D.C. more accessible to us all. My other intern and I also met individually with each of the members of the development team to talk with them about how they prepared for their career through education, former jobs, and internships. Each of them had such great advice for new ventures to pursue and lessons they learned!

Through this internship, I have learned how to work with a diverse range of professionals and fellow interns, what steps to take to continue a career with nonprofit work, and discovered an interest in policy through being able to attend events about current political happenings. I have continued to soak in all of the knowledge around me, and this internship has made me excited for the future. I would encourage people to step outside of their normal work to experience new possibilities.