•  
  •  
 

Abstract

With a focus on organizational capacity building, community-university (CU) partnerships have the potential to yield valuable resources for community nonprofits, which increasingly have to accomplish more with fewer resources. Although a growing body of literature documents the success of such arrangements, both community agencies and universities often face challenges in managing such partnerships. With a focus on student involvement, this paper describes a framework for conceptualizing CU partnerships around capacity building, with efforts designed to address particular program needs as related to the organization’s capacity goals. These needs can be viewed as involving five levels of capacity building: 1) monitoring and documenting program outcomes or processes, 2) enhancing staff skills, 3) modifying program processes, 4) supporting adaptation, and 5) developing infrastructure. Conceptualizing partnerships along these levels helps frame communication about the agency’s capacity building agenda, focuses efforts on addressing organizational needs, and establishes expectations for the scope of student work. Efforts to address these levels can take the form of internal or external models of partnership, varying in their degrees of student involvement and faculty supervision, and can leverage various mechanisms to compensate students for their work. Over time, opportunities for student involvement transform as the needs, goals, and resources of the agency evolve, and the potential of the university to influence the agency grows. Simultaneously, the opportunities open to students for professional development, competency building, and career networking continue to develop as they implement higher-level capacity building within an organization.