Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies

ccns_4c_l-2Inquiry & Action for Social Change

The CommNS

The Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies, or 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.

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, students, and CommNS affiliates to conduct groundbreaking applied research examining key issues in communities and the civic and nonprofit sectors. The CommNS facilitates exchanges among community members, practitioners, and academic scholars to encourage and support innovative thinking, best practice development, and mutually beneficial research partnerships, technical support, and community-engaged projects and learning. If you would like more information about the CommNS, please email Executive Director Mary Beth Collins at

Focus Areas & Affiliates

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

There are six (6) Focus Areas for the CommNS, which help us to connect in affinity groups pertaining to timely themes in community and nonprofit work:

  • Sustainable Communities, Wellbeing, and Empowerment
  • Youth Development & Civic Engagement
  • Program Evaluation
  • Nonprofit Studies
  • Community Design and Place-Making
  • Food Systems
  • Alternative and Solidarity Economies

Key Efforts of the CommNS

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


Outreach and Educational Activities

  • Lunch and Learn:  The CommNS hosts Brown Bag presentations 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.
  • Annual Event: The CommNS hosts an annual conference that is focused on a key theme – for example, “This is What Democracy Looks Like” (2016) and “Funding and Social Change” (April 2018).
  • 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

  • MoCSI & 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 (a.k.a. the Morgridge and CommNS Special Initiatives group, or MoCSI).  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.

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.

Current Events & News

Please view our most recent newsletter here.

Save the date for April 24th, 2019 for our annual event. The CommNS annual spring event has been a popular and thought- provoking tool to explore key topics in the community and nonprofit sector with colleagues from across the campus and community. The event is open to the public and all are welcomed and encouraged to attend. We will be working on our theme and providing updates in the coming months, but please save the date for April 24th and plan to join us for yet another great event.

Check back for updates on our October, November, and December Lunch & Learn discussions.

  • October will focus on Food Systems & Evaluation
  • November will focus on Nonprofit Management (presentation by Doug Ihrke, Executive Director, Helen Bader Institute for Nonprofit Management, hosted by Nonprofit Studies Focus Area)
  • December will focus on Environmental Justice and Advocacy (hosted by Healthy and Sustainable Communities Focus Area)

Past News & Events

Thank you for joining us on September 17th at Synergy Coworking (5201 Old Middleton Rd Madison, Wisconsin 53705) from 12:00pm to 1:30pm (CST) for a lively discussion on the definition and application of Social Entrepreneurship given by the CommNS Executive Director Mary Beth Collins.

Check back for updates on our October, November, and December Lunch & Learn discussions.

2018 Annual Event: A huge thank you for making the 2018 annual conference, entitled “Funding & Social Change”, a success. The conference brought a wide range of stakeholders, community members, investors, funders, professionals, students, and professors together. A special thank you to professor Penn Loh (Tufts University) who gave a key note speech on the complexities and politics of funding for social progress, and to the over 150 attendees who made the break out sessions both exciting and insightful. Stay turned for follow-ups from the CommNS about the theme and for information on our 2019 event.


For more information or to partner with us, please contact Mary Beth Collins, Executive Director at

Mailing Address

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