Center for Community & Nonprofit Studies


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.”CommNS at a glance Infographic 1.29.20

Mission & Vision


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.


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

Inquiry & Action for Social Change

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 and our affiliates to conduct groundbreaking applied research examining key issues in communities and the civic and nonprofit sectors. We facilitate exchanges among community members, practitioners, and academic scholars to encourage innovative thinking, best practice development, and community engagement.

With awareness of historic challenges in university and community collaboration, the CommNS works to build and grow mutually beneficial and impactful community-campus partnerships. We uphold the belief in the need to shift power and elevate historically underrepresented 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".

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


Outreach and Educational Activities

CommUniversity: The CommNS hosts events throughout the academic year.  At these events, Affiliates and interested audiences convene to discuss key themes impacting communities and scholarship, and explore potential future projects and collaborations.

Our Annual Event: The CommNS hosts an annual conference that is focused on a key theme – for example, “Where Mission Meets Advocacy” (2019), “Funding and Social Change” (April 2018) and “This is What Democracy Looks Like” (2016) .

Fundraising Conference: The CommNS has the opportunity to take leadership of this historic UW-hosted conference and may be able to enhance the model to serve broader audiences and engage cutting-edge themes of the third sector that the CommNS aims to address.


Sponsored Programs, Research and Outreach Grants: This includes creative community-collaborative, local, and international projects. The CommNS is host to a variety of extramurally funded sponsored programs that advance applied scholarship and research.


Support from Campus in the Sector

C3 & WisNRG: In recognition of a need for more coordination on the UW campus to support community collaborations as well as of the void 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 a campus wide coalition of community facing campus units known collectively as C3.  Additionally, CommNS has led an unprecedented convening of non-profit-serving organizations statewide, called WisNRG (Wisconsin Nonprofit Resources and Gaps).

Technical Support from the Co-Create Team: 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-services basis. With a unique approach that prioritizes collaboration and creativity, these projects meet the specific interests of community groups and build lasting sustainability and relationships along the way. Products from these joint endeavors, including research findings and evaluation tools, are made available for the benefit of broader audiences as well.

Campus-wide Initiatives

The CommNS is already a key player in a variety of campus-wide thematically based initiatives and is valued in those contexts for its ability to address multidisciplinary community themes and thoughtful approaches to community engagement and organizing. Some of these initiatives include: Creative Placemaking and Design in Communities, Food Systems, UniverCity Year, WiscoJalisco collaboration, and 4W. The CommNS is also a contributing member to UW-Madison’s Community Relations’ team to guide the UW South Madison Partnership Space, and was a key contributor to the recently promulgated “Civic Action Plan”, to promote better community engagement, for our campus (see:, and will take leadership on several of the Civic Action Plan recommendations going forward.

Civic Health: In an effort to assess and address  the health of Wisconsin, the CommNS formed a coalition of statewide nonpartisan organizations,  to promote informed strategies to continually improve Wisconsin’s civic health. Through our Civic Health Initiative, we aim to learn about the nature of this issue in Wisconsin through the preparation of a “Civic Health of Wisconsin Report”, then leverage the publication of the first Report to launch an online platform and “hub” for information about promising civic health programming, support from the CommNS and Coalition members for community groups, municipalities, state government units, and others to develop their own civic health programs, mini-grant opportunities for organizations and groups to launch civic health efforts, and connections to broader, national civic health discussions and efforts.

Student Opportunities and Preparing Future Change Agents

Paid Internships: The SoHE Paid Internship program connects the CommNS to undergraduate opportunities and our wide array of community and nonprofit partners.

Departmental Affiliation: The CommNS also serves as a hub for interaction among practitioners, community members, thought leaders in the field and on campus, as well as for research and outreach that inform programming of the Department of Civil Society and Community Studies and the SoHE Applied Master’s Program. Through the CommNS contributions to amplify community and practitioner wisdom, students preparing for careers in the nonprofit sector and as change agents in their communities receive timely, critical, and community-based insights and guidance.

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, | 608-712-5950

Overview Video

Connect with CommNS

University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies
1300 Linden Drive
4285M Nancy Nicholas Hall
Madison, WI 53706

Picture of Facebook Logo.Follow us on Facebook.