Community nurseries within natural protected areas (NPAs) represent an attractive option to link biodiversity conservation with socioeconomic development, yet their functioning lacks proper assessment. Here, we analyse the national context of community nurseries in Mexican NPAs and suggest a specific framework to evaluate their viability. First, we examine the impact of a major governmental funding programme on these projects. Next, we conduct a case study in a focal nursery to identify challenges faced by its operation. Despite the large number of community nurseries funded by the programme, current performance indicators are not suitable to assess their viability. In turn, the case study reveals this nursery’s partial success, with a clear contribution to social development but a limited impact on economic improvement and vegetation conservation. Regardless of the characteristics of individual community nurseries, we suggest a framework that is potentially useful for evaluating community nursery viability, which enables agencies to detect problems, find solutions and use resources efficiently, while balancing biodiversity conservation and development.