Working with Community Agencies

  1. Keep in mind the three tasks of most nonprofit agencies:
    • provide direct service
    • educate
    • generate friends and resources
  2. Ask yourself: how much and what kind of good will the agency get out of a relationship with my class? Whenever possible, offer work that will help the agency implement its primary purpose of service delivery.
  3. Be as flexible as possible about the timing, extent and nature of the service to be provided.
  4. Get to know the agency's mission and involve them from the start. Agencies appreciate being a part of the planning process.
  5. Listen carefully to the agency's needs, ideas and concerns. Be open to possibilities proposed by the agency. Don't fully develop a plan and then call them in.
  6. The key to successful university/community relationships is communication, negotiation and mutual respect. The best matches involve careful listening on both sides about the needs of the other.
  7. Be aware of potential culture clashes between the university and a community nonprofit or K-12 school. Talk about these differences and the daily places where problems might occur. Discuss ways to address or minimize miscommunication.
  8. Examine your attitude towards your agency partner. Are you being controlling? Patronizing? Do you think of the agency as an actual partner or as a necessary nuisance? Attitudes communicate themselves.
  9. Success often depends on the relationship between the agency representative and the faculty member. Make time and develop your relationship. The single most powerful way of doing this is in person.
  10. Very few agencies know of community learning. They think in terms of community service. Once they have caught on, most agencies are full of ideas for enhancing the learning side of community learning. Share your course goals and encourage your partner to brainstorm with you.
  11. Most agencies are understaffed, under funded and in mild to acute perpetual crisis. Don't take it personally when you're not the most important item on their agenda.
  12. It is perfectly appropriate for an agency to turn down prospective volunteers. Sometimes the skills, talents or temperament of the community learning students are mismatched with the work or needs of the agency. At other times, the agency may not need what you are offering or may not be able to use a large number of students at one time.
  13. Successful placements and projects often have concrete goals and tangible outcomes that can be measured. This happens best when agencies and teachers plan together.
  14. Finally, remember that people work for nonprofits because they want to make the world a better place, solve local problems and address pressing local issues. Like many faculty, nonprofit and school staff want to work with you and help make a difference in the lives of students.