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The Official Baldrige Blog

Spotlight on 2018 Baldrige Award Recipient Leaders: Donor Alliance’s Sue Dunn

2018 Baldrige Award Recipient Donor Alliance photo showing two female volunteers outside holding a heart with Donate Life shirts.
Credit: Donor Alliance

Photo of Sue Dunn 31st Quest for Excellence Speaker.
Sue Dunn
Donor Alliance
2018 Baldrige Award Recipient
Donor Alliance, a nonprofit based in Denver, Colorado, has consistently been ranked among the top ten organ procurement organizations (OPOs) in the nation for maintaining an organ donor conversion rate (number of actual organ donors divided by number of patients considered potential donors) of more than 80 percent. 

Donor Alliance also maintains high rates of satisfaction among key customers. For example, it has achieved a 100 percent satisfaction rate with its tissue processors, the organizations that are responsible for preparing, preserving, storing, and distributing final tissue grafts for transplantation. In addition, all four of the local transplant centers that are key customers of Donor Alliance reported 100 percent satisfaction with the organization in 2018, the year it earned its Baldrige Award.  

In April, Donor Alliance President and CEO Sue Dunn will officially accept this prestigious award—the nation’s highest honor for organizational excellence. Consequently, at the Baldrige Program’s 31st Annual Quest for Excellence® Conference, Dunn and other leaders of her organization will present processes and practices that have helped the nonprofit become a high-performing role model for U.S. organizations.

In the following interview, Dunn describes the focus of her upcoming Quest Conference presentation on leadership, highlights how the Baldrige Excellence Framework has supported Donor Alliance’s journey to excellence, and tells why other organizations can also benefit from using the framework to improve their performance.

Congratulations as your organization will be officially receiving its Baldrige Award at the ceremony this spring! Do you wish to share how you and your employees feel about this great achievement and reacted when you heard the news of winning the award?

Donor Alliance has been on the performance excellence journey since 2010, so we were thrilled to be an awardee this year!

Our mission of saving lives through organ and tissue donation and transplantation is too important for us not to be fully committed to having systematic processes that enable a meaningful legacy to be created for organ donor families, while also enabling recipients of organ and tissue donations to have a second chance at life.

Not knowing what the outcome of the much-awaited call [from the Secretary of Commerce or the Baldrige Award program] would be, we had gathered our staff for a thank-you breakfast—and the room erupted into cheers when I made the announcement. 

Would you please describe the topic of your leadership presentation at the upcoming Quest Conference?

I’ll be sharing how Donor Alliance has leveraged its mission and relationships to save lives. Our leadership system, grounded by our core competencies, is designed to inspire and raise the bar for performance. Much of our success is attributed to the energy and resources we’ve put into a variety of communication mechanisms, creating a sense of involvement and confidence with our workforce, customers, and other stakeholders.

I’ll talk about how we’ve created an environment of success to best meet our mission. Our work is so very human, and I promise your heart strings will be tugged. 

How has the Baldrige Excellence Framework contributed to your organization’s success? Would you please share a tip for using the Baldrige framework?

The framework gave us a roadmap for six areas essential for any organization, and that was attractive from a systems perspective.

At first blush, the framework seemed simple; however, we soon we realized it was deceptively simple! It was an “ah-ha” moment when we were stumped in trying to fit our strategic planning process (SPP) into the [Baldrige Criteria]. Our work and diligence paid off as nine years later, our SPP was identified [in our Baldrige feedback report] as a key theme and a bolded strength in item 1.1.  

Somewhere early in our journey, it was suggested that we use the Baldrige Criteria without calling it “Baldrige” with our staff. But since the framework is so evidence-based, we made the decision to start using the Baldrige label with the full staff. I think that the concepts of [process] deployment and integration were easier for people to understand using Baldrige language from the start. 

What are a few key reasons that organizations in your sector can benefit from using the Baldrige framework (which includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence)?

The [Baldrige Criteria] categories identify key areas of organizational focus and call for an assessment of your own identified processes. We’ve found it has been useful to have a proven methodology for improvement. 

Focusing on results is two-pronged: using the Criteria, not only can you see your results improve, but you also are focused on the gap areas that are holding back your results. 

The process requires that your entire organization is on the “journey,” not just those in leadership positions who are making decisions about processes. While the early years are tough in getting Baldrige integrated throughout the organization, there is a point when it becomes how you do your work, and that is a wonderful thing!

Donor Alliance is 1 of 58 independent organ procurement organizations with service areas throughout the United States designated by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The nonprofit organization has headquarters in Denver, CO, as well as regional offices in Grand Junction, CO, Colorado Springs, CO, and Casper, WY. Its geographic service area stretches across 184,151 square miles, including Colorado and most of Wyoming.

Donor Alliance has organ and tissue recovery programs in more than 100 hospitals to carry out its mission of saving lives through organ and tissue donation. Complementing this work, the organization creates and supports community partnerships, public outreach, and education campaigns throughout its donation service area to encourage people to register as organ and tissue donors.  


Join us for the Quest for Excellence Conference April 7-10, 2019.

Quest for Excellence® Conference

NATIONAL HARBOR | April 7–10, 2019
Join us for the 31st Annual Quest for Excellence Conference showcasing the best practices of the 2018 Baldrige Award recipients!


Sunday, April 7
Join us Sunday evening for the Award Ceremony and Reception honoring the 2018 recipients.

Register Now | Book Your Hotel Room


About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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