Our Community Engagement Framework


Bonner Programs strive to have deep, reciprocal relationships with their community partners that provide a spectrum of opportunities for volunteers at all levels. An ideal relationship would have a small group of Bonners and other campus volunteers simultaneously serving a site with different levels of responsibility according to their progress in the Student Development Model.  The Community Engagement chart below summarizes our approach. 

In this model, individual volunteers work in different capacities (as tutors, mentors, servers, health clinic specialists) in the Placement Model, but they can also be mutually responsible for building capacity of the organization through helping recruit other volunteers, coordinate projects, and even do planning in the Collaborative, Problem-Solving Model.  You can read more about the background on our approach here.

How does this translate into real service work for Bonners?  By the end of the first year (or semester), Bonners typically find a placement at the 'regular volunteer' level, meaning they carve out a role for several hours per week.  Most of the time, students are working in schools, in clinics, with youth programs, at agencies that serve the hungry and homeless, in parks, and so on.  At times, Bonners and other students might take roles as 'occasional volunteers,' which means they're involved in one-time or short-term service projects, such as a park clean-up, build, or other initiatives.  Over time—perhaps by the second or third year—a Bonner finds an issue, organization, and role she or he is committed to, and begins to take leadership.  The student might become a site leader, project coordinator, or branch out to create a new program area within the organization.  Finally, a student may take on a specialist role, often embraced as a member of the staff.  Here, the student might be carrying out research projects, program development, and even planning for the agency.

This approach also translates to a comprehensive notion of service, in which Bonner Scholars and Leaders can mentor, coach, teach, build, do research, and more.  


Capacity-Building Projects

The organizations, schools, agencies, and groups with which Bonners and other students work are often small, locally-run non-profits that really need the volunteers and other resources (like equipment, supplies, and funding). Students might find that their work is hindered by resource barriers, or even a sense of disorganization that results from crisis management.  As service work evolves, the student can also help the organization to better meet its mission and deliver what it needs to for those it serves. Bonner Programs—with multi-year volunteers—can forge a connection between the semester-long placements and an overarching strategy to build the capacity of the organization.  As students take on increasing responsibility—recruiting and coordinating other volunteers and projects, doing outreach and PR, carrying out community-based and policy research, writing new materials, raising money, and even doing strategic planning—students can contribute to the ability for the organization to carry out its mission effectively.  The five capacity building areas we focus on are:

1) Volunteer Management

2) Program Development and Training

3) Fundraising

4) Communication

5) Community-Based Research and PolicyOptions Research

In order to best leverage Bonners' work with a site, campus programs often begin to integrate a site-based or issue-based team model. This means that there are more than one volunteer at the organization, even if some are not in the Bonner Program.  The organization can count on getting Bonners and other regular volunteers each year, and this provides valuable staffing and human resources for its work.  Learn more about Capacity Building Positionsthe Site and Issue Team Model here.

As this happens, the campus also builds its capacity to better partner with and serve the organization. For example, a partner site hosts four Bonners throughout the year, hosts a campus-wide service event with 60 volunteers annually, has 12 other students serve at the agency as part of a service-learning course, and has a faculty member involved on its board and doing research that it needs.  On campus, all of this work is coordinated by the center(s) for community service, service-learning, civic engagement or whatever they may be called.  Over time, the campus and community solidify a long-term, multi-faceted relationship—with connections to many resources that the campus can bring.


Developmental Community Partnerships

For the purposes of the Bonner Scholars Program, “community service” is defined as service provided to individuals or communities to meet social, educational, or environmental needs. This service may be provided directly or indirectly through a student-initiated project or a project sponsored by a non-profit or government agency.

Since the Bonner Program rests on a commitment to meaningful, long-term service relationship to the partners and communities with which we work, the following is the developmental stages of establishing and maintaining partnerships.  Along side the a hallmarks, each stage includes the annual completion of the Opportunity Forms and Accomplishment Forms, and on-going support and management from professional staff and students. 

Level 1: Exploratory Partnerships

  • Discussion of the Bonner Developmental Model
  • Have few student volunteers (Bonners)
  • Exploratory/short-term academic or co-curricular projects
  • Clear understanding of mission, programs, and structure

Level 2: Emerging Partnerships

  • Clear partnership plan (ideally 3+ year commitment)
  • Agency working to develop team (at least three students) with developmentally distinct positions
  • Clear liaison; regular communication; experimental faculty roles 

Level 3: Engaged Partnerships

  • Agency can count on an annual "team" (at least three students) with clear roles (direct and capacity building)
  • Ongoing connection to at least one faculty member; role of partners in training students; annual plan and evaluation

Level 4: Exemplary Partnership

  • Sustained Teams ("deep partnership")
  • Long-Range (multiyear)
  • Strategic Plan (or collective impact focus)
  • Ongoing academic community engagement and capacity building projects; partners as co-educators