Center for Community & Nonprofit Studies

Click to read the Wisconsin Civic Health Report (coming June 3)

In partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship and a coalition of nonpartisan Wisconsin organizations, the CommNS presents this inaugural report on Wisconsin’s civic health. The report is based on the 2019 Wisconsin Civic Health Index™, which measures residents’ civic engagement and community connectedness. These data are presented alongside Wisconsin demographic information, civics education standards, trends in local politics and news, and current civic health efforts.

Wisconsin joins 30 other U.S. states in measuring civic health, laying the groundwork for tracking changes and improvements. This publication also marks the beginning of a civic health of Wisconsin initiative, which will mobilize these data to strengthen and catalyze civic engagement efforts in Wisconsin communities. This initiative and report will be featured on the upcoming CommNS Knowledge website, alongside additional information on collaborating organizations’ and communities’ civic health efforts around the Wisconsin.

To stay connected, share your contact information for timely updates and join our Civic Health of Wisconsin Facebook Page.

About

The CommNS is a hub for faculty, students, and community partners to collaborate on research, practice, and evaluation that examines and advances the well-being of communities, as well as the civic and nonprofit sectors.

We aim to be a globally recognizable leader making significant contributions, in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, to “inquiry and action for social change.”

Mission & Vision

Mission

The CommNS builds capacity and knowledge in community, civil society, and nonprofit studies through the integration of action and applied research, education, outreach and engagement.

Vision

The CommNS provides an inspiring place for UW faculty and Center affiliates to exchange and collaborate with fellow researchers, students, community members, professionals and volunteers in civil society and community organizations in the following ways:

  • Conducting groundbreaking applied research examining key issues in communities and the nonprofit sector/civil society.
  • Creating outstanding education/informational exchanges that promote best practices for community improvement and collaborative strategies for achieving social/systems change. The CommNS provides a platform for dissemination and engagement with community members, professionals, and students engaged in community and nonprofit leadership. The CommNS’ scholarship, dissemination, and capacity building supports the development of current and future leaders and practitioners in community and nonprofit organizations, as well as the development of scholars trained to employ multiple methods and multiple disciplinary perspectives to solving real-world problems in collaboration with community and nonprofit organizations.
  • Innovative thinking that develops new strategies through collaborative and participatory research and community engagement. Through bridging research and practice and fostering experiential education, the CommNS is involved in devising new models and strategies for impact on social issues and community improvement.
Focus Areas

Graphic for CommNS focus areas

The work of the CommNS happens through collaboration among a variety of contributors, including faculty, students, and staff from across campus, other institutions of higher education, and from community organizations. These collaborators connect with us through our Focus Areas (see graphic) and as Affiliates of the CommNS.

Across Focus Areas, work is centered on key inquiry and action efforts

  • Multidisciplinary engaged scholarship, research, and dissemination community engagement, wisdom, and use
  • Capacity-building for current and future nonprofit and  community organizations, innovators and change agents, leaders and influencers through teaching and the exchange of ideas, both in the classroom and in the community
  • Technical support to nonprofit and community organization partners, and bi-directional learning from such collaborations, with involvement from students, faculty, staff, and community partners
  • Support of collaborations with groups across UW-Madison and UW-Extension related to nonprofit, civil society, civic engagement, and community endeavors
Key Efforts & Special Initiatives

The CommNS builds capacity and knowledge in community and nonprofit studies through the integration of action, research, education, outreach, engagement, and evaluation. It provides an inspiring place for UW faculty, our affiliates, and students to conduct groundbreaking applied research that examines key issues in communities and the civic and nonprofit sectors. We facilitate exchanges among community members, practitioners, scholars, and students to encourage innovative thinking, best practice development, and community engagement.

With awareness of historic challenges in university and community collaboration, and in the nonprofit sector itself, the CommNS works to build and grow mutually beneficial and impactful community-campus partnerships and to advance equitable and effective practices in community and nonprofit work. We uphold the belief in the need to elevate historically underrepresented and community-led voices, leadership, and approaches.  Our research, capacity-building, and outreach activities prioritize community wisdom and the role of the university in contributing to impactful work on the ground, in furtherance of the Wisconsin Idea.

Our efforts engage a broad range of stakeholders to conduct Inquiry and Action for Social Change.

Inquiry

Outreach and Educational Activities

CommUniversity: The CommNS hosts outreach and engagement events throughout the academic year.  At these events, CommNS friends and colleagues convene to discuss key themes impacting communities, organizations, and scholarship, and to explore potential projects and collaborations.  We also host CommUnity conversations to allow colleagues across affinity groups, community contexts and sectors to exchange ideas, information, and perspective on key themes.

The CommNS Annual Event: The CommNS hosts an annual conference that is focused on a key theme – for example, “Where Mission Meets Advocacy” (April 2019), “Funding and Social Change” (April 2018) and “This is What Democracy Looks Like” (Fall 2016).  This annual event brings together a broad range of participants, including students, faculty, and community partners from across Wisconsin and beyond.

Fundraising and Development for Nonprofits Conference: The CommNS took leadership of this historic UW-hosted conference and continues to enhance the model to serve broader audiences and address cutting-edge themes of funding, resources, and sustainability in the third sector.

Research and Dissemination

Research and Sponsored Programs: Our portfolio of research and sponsored programs, led by our world-class faculty and affiliates, includes creative community-engaged, local, and global projects. The CommNS is host to a variety of extramurally-funded sponsored programs that advance applied research to ultimately make positive change in communities.

Additionally, the CommNS continues to build its capacity to translate and disseminate research and knowledge to communities and practitioners, through its “CommNS Knowledge” multimedia platforms and communication channels.

Action

Collaborative Initiatives in the Sector, in Wisconsin, and the World

WisNRG: In recognition of a need for more coordination on the UW campus to support collaborations with the nonprofit sector, as well as of the absence of a statewide nonprofit association in the state of Wisconsin, the CommNS led an effort in 2017 to coordinate on-campus community partnership efforts with Morgridge Center for Public Service partners. That effort has led to an unprecedented convening and ongoing network of non-profit-serving organizations statewide, called WisNRG (Wisconsin Nonprofit Resources and Gaps).  WisNRG provides an important platform for information-sharing, and a hub for resources and coordination for the Wisconsin nonprofit sector.

Civic Health of Wisconsin: In an effort to assess and address Wisconsin’s “Civic Health” – or, the way

that communities are organized to define and address public problems, the CommNS formed a coalition of statewide nonpartisan organizations to create the inaugural Civic Health of Wisconsin report and promote informed strategies to improve Wisconsin’s civic health.  This is an ongoing effort, with the inaugural report expected to be published in 2020, which we hope will serve as a catalyst for ongoing action across Wisconsin communities.

Wisco+World Efforts.  The CommNS has a growing circle of global partners, through university-to-university collaborations, federal government programs to promote global exchange, and nonprofit and community organization partnerships.  These relationships span Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe.  Our “Wisco+World” collaborations allow us to exchange and learn across contexts and to gain better understanding of community and nonprofit efforts on a global scale.  We actively engage students and classrooms and pursue grant funding for collaborative research and outreach projects with these “Wisco+World” partners.

Campus-wide Initiatives

The CommNS plays a collaborative role in a variety of campus-wide initiatives, including but not limited to the UniverCity Alliance, the 4W Initiative, the YALI Mandela Fellows Program, and the UW-South Madison Partnership Advisory Board, to name a few. The CommNS is a key contributor to the University of Wisconsin-Madison “Civic Action Plan”, to promote better community engagement, and is a key participant in a network of Community-Campus Connector (“C3”) units who work to share with each other and improve upon the way we conduct community-engaged work.

Technical Support for Community and Nonprofit Organizations

Leveraging expertise in research, evaluation, outreach, and nonprofit and community processes, CommNS staff and graduate students provide technical support in various forms to community groups on a fee-for-service basis through our “Co-Create” Initiative. With a unique approach that prioritizes collaboration and creativity, these projects meet the specific interests of community groups and build sustainability and lasting relationships along the way. Products from these joint endeavors, including research findings and evaluation tools, are often made available for the benefit of broader audiences as well.  Visit the “Connect with Co-Create” tab on our webpage to learn more.

Student Opportunities and Preparing Future Change Agents

As a hub for interaction among practitioners, community members, and thought leaders in the field and on campus, the CommNS helps to inform programming of the Department of Civil Society and Community Studies and the SoHE Applied Master’s Program. The CommNS also hosts a Certificate in Community and Nonprofit Leadership, for continuing learners who have already obtained their bachelor’s degree and wish to expand their knowledge and skills to serve as change agents or leaders in the sector.  Through its contributions to bring community and practitioner wisdom, and timely, critical, and community-based insights and guidance to the classroom, the CommNS contributes to students’ preparation for careers in the nonprofit sector and as change agents in communities and the world.

Additionally, our outreach and engagement events bring students together with practitioners and experts from the field.  Our network of collaborators and our Co-Create technical support and research initiatives create special opportunities for students to engage in networking and project-based work.  These hands-on experiences offer meaningful learning to students in addition to meaningful support to community partners.  We also offer networking opportunities for students to connect with community partners, and to help students identify internships and capstone opportunities through our robust and growing network of collaborators.

Key Events

As a part of its strategic plan and goals, the CommNS hosts a variety of convenings and learning opportunities where faculty, students, practitioners, and community members learn and explore concepts together about key themes in community and nonprofit studies and practice. These SoHE events are planned based on topics which members of our network identify as timely and which they would benefit from learning more about and exploring across campus and community perspectives.

Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies Annual Event | October 14, 2020 | Memorial Union
Getting the Work Done: “How-To’s” in Community and Nonprofit Efforts

headshot of Shariq A SiddiquiJoin our network of student, faculty, practitioners, and community partner collaborators for an impactful, one-day annual conference. This year’s event features compelling sessions that prepare current and future change agents for their work in the sector. Gain practical skills and engage in thought-provoking sessions and discussions on how to “get the work done”!

This year's keynote is Shariq A. Siddiqui, J.D. Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Philanthropic Studies and Director of the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Previously, Dr. Siddiqui served as the Executive Director of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action.

Register Now!

Engaged Research

TheCommNS conducts engaged research on key focus areas related to community well-being and the third sector.  This research usually involves a contributions from community partners and campus research teams.  The CommNS is able to leverage its platform within a large "R1" research institution and major flagship university to provide high-quality research support and infrastructure to advance projects that benefit community partners.  All Affiliates of the CommNS are invited to propose projects to the CommNS and take advantage of the CommNS pre-award support to prepare submissions.  

For information about past and current sponsored programs and engaged research projects hosted by the CommNS, please see: the Centers of Excellence 2015-16 Annual Report; the Centers of Excellence 2016-17 Annual Report 

Wisconsin Idea Exchange

If you are seeking campus-community partnerships we recommend signing up for the Wisconsin Idea Exchange Database from the Morgridge Center for Public Service. It's a great resource for faculty, staff, and community organizations to connect with those at UW-Madison and beyond.

Connect with Co-Create

Collaboration. Research. Evaluation. Outreach. Strategy. Connections.

Co-Create is the space we make for collaborative creation with your nonprofit organization or community group to meet your unique needs for advancing social change.

Bring to us your questions, your challenges, and your dreams, and let’s create together!

Our Co-Create team offers:

  • Expertise in nonprofits, community processes, and the “third sector”
  • Evaluation and applied research, and other ways of bringing inquiry to action
  • Facilitation for strategic planning and other organizational processes
  • Outreach and communication strategies
  • Connections to other university researchers and resources

We can support your organization’s vision for social change through collaborative efforts that leverage the assets of engaged research:

  • Knowledge and synthesis of research in community and nonprofit studies 
  • Data collection, analysis, participatory research, and evaluation
  • Skills in strategic planning, program design, and group facilitation
  • Connections to university experts and other opportunities to work together

Nonprofit organizations and community groups benefit from our services, which include: 

  • Program evaluation
  • Landscape scans
  • Evaluation plans
  • Stakeholder assessments
  • Data skill building
  • Strategic planning
  • Literature reviews
  • Program and initiative design 

Explore a Co-Create project with the CommNS! Contact Amy Hilgendorf, Associate Director for Engaged Research, ahilgendorf@wisc.edu | 608-712-5950

Overview Video

Connect with CommNS

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University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies
1300 Linden Drive
4285M Nancy Nicholas Hall
Madison, WI 53706
Email: thecommns@sohe.wisc.edu 

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