Wedding Gown and the Town
Increasingly, Universities and Community Organizations are engaging in dynamic partnerships built on ideals of reciprocity and mutual benefit. When initiating such partnerships, organizations face the difficult task of merging distinct organizational cultures and missions; integrating different missions and organizational processes without overtaking them. This merging of organizational ideologies generates a “partnership culture” that exists outside of the individual organizations; the successful creation and maintenance of which can lead to eventual partnership success and longevity. Past research typically views these partnerships as relationships at the organizational level, between university A and organization B. However, little consideration is given to the ways in which individuals within the organizations actively create and maintain these partnerships through their personal relationships. I argue that the creation and maintenance of successful inter-organizational partnerships between universities and their community partner organizations (CPOs) hinges on the formal and informal processes between individuals as representatives of their organization. Using an in-depth qualitative methodology, grounded in concern for community voice and agency, this paper highlights university-community partnerships in the context of service-based programs at a medium-sized, faith-based university in New England (Northeast College). Through interviews with university program directors and CPO directors and volunteer coordinators responsible for these partnerships, I investigate the processes of establishing relationships and mechanisms for continued success and partnership longevity. This study shows that the formation and identification of a “partnership culture” based on perceived mission alignment, trust, respect, and mutual investment has led to the cultivation of long-standing partnerships between Northeast College and its CPOs. Additionally, through the development of personal relationships built on open communication and viewing each party as “co-educators,” it presents specific mechanisms that contribute to the successful cultivation of such a culture. By specifically highlighting the perspectives of the CPOs, this study seeks to contribute directly to the growing concern in the area for community impact, and the development of CPO agency and feedback in the partnership creation process.