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Cultivating mutually beneficial university & nonprofit partnerships

Erica Hodges, ASU & St. Vincent de Paul Program Manager

"Initial statistics present a level of engagement between ASU and SVdP of 20,220 service hours recorded, a value of $502,062 in volunteer time."

- Erica Hodges, KER fellow 2020 


Complex social and economic issues in the community like poverty, homelessness, and immigration cannot be addressed by one organization, entity, or sector. Collaborations between higher education institutions and nonprofits can leverage diverse strengths, assets, and capacities to create resilient systems of support that help communities prepare for, recover from, and build back after shocks.

Arizona State University (ASU) and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding in the fall of 2017 in response to a need to strengthen their on-going and innovative, collaborative relationship. The ASU & SVdP partnership has intersections of connecting activities, including service, experiential learning, student support and retention, community-informed research, resource sharing, staff development, knowledge exchange, and philanthropy. Throughout the course of the partnership, Erica Hodges has been embedded in St. Vincent de Paul and Arizona State University to gain a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges, capacity, and interest to strengthen and grow the partnership.

Research questions

  • Who is responsible for addressing issues in the community?

  • What is the relationship between institutions of higher education, nonprofits, and the community?

  • Are university and nonprofit partnerships beneficial in creating community resilience?

  • What is the community impact when universities and nonprofits partner to address issues?

  • How can this impact be measured and sustained? How do socially embedded entities demonstrate resilience during times of community disruption?

Methods and findings

During her fellowship, Hodges analyzed available data to determine the trends, gaps, and common elements in university and nonprofit partnerships. She found that university and nonprofit partnerships that persist express reciprocity where goals, values, and desired outcomes align. Additionally, volunteerism is one component that is consistent across the university and nonprofit partnerships. Finally, she noted that they need staff capacity across leadership and coordination levels to endure these kinds of partnerships. Hodges then used these insights to create a university and nonprofit partnership framework and applied it to the Phoenix Welcome Center, a relief center for asylum seekers, to determine if this framework could create community resilience.


Arizona State University

  • Edmundo Hidalgo, Vice President Educational Outreach Partnerships
  • Lorenzo Chavez, Assistant Vice President for Outreach Partnerships
  • Dr. Sharon Smith, Associate Vice President & Downtown Dean of Students
  • Dale Larsen, Director of Community Relations & Professor of Practice in the Watts College of Public Service & Community Solutions
  • Erica Hodges, ASU & SVdP Program Manager

St. Vincent de Paul

  • Jessica Berg, Chief Program Officer Shannon Clancy, Associate Executive Director & Chief Philanthropy Officer

Asylum Assistance Roundtable

  • Beth Strano, International Rescue Committee (IRC)
  • Eddie Chavez Calderon, Jews 4 Justice Mary
  • Jo Forman Miller, Refugee Aide
  • Cecilia Garcia, 100 Angels Foundation
  • Violetta Lopez, Phoenix College


This project has broader implications for understanding how the effective university and nonprofit partnerships meet their own needs and those of the community. All too often, assumptions and minimal feedback prove to limit the potential resilience of some partnerships. University staff acting as community liaisons may not consider including their partners in the planning process or effectively solicit feedback at the end of a process, which means the opportunity to include an important stakeholder is lost. Additionally, determining the value of a partnership is important, and there is limited research on practical means of measuring partnerships or evidence of universities effectively measuring their partnerships. Hodges hopes this project supports further investigation of ways to measure university and community partnerships and spotlights the mutually beneficial aspects of these types of partnerships.


  • Report for the ASU & SVdP partnership
  • Framework of university & nonprofit partnership components that can be used to evaluate existing partnerships or craft new partnerships
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