Many recent grant initiatives have mandated coalition building as a key component of their health promotion efforts. Health service leaders are increasingly representing their organizations on coalitions and need to better understand the complexities involved in their creation and management. In this paper we focus on the implementation of a community–academic alliance using an ethnographic approach involving participant observation and in-depth interviews. Analysis of the data revealed five essential dimensions to be considered in the development of successful community–academic alliances: membership, structure, leadership, communication, and funding. Within each of these areas, facilitators and barriers to successful coalition building were identified. While these areas are not new, obtaining the perspective of coalition members directly adds to our understanding of the member experience in the process of implementing such initiatives. This example of a community–academic collaboration presents one model of how to minimize the distance between research and service and move toward a partnership between these two worlds. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Comm Psychol 32: 357–374, 2004.